Interview: Duchess Clothier

“Menswear” is back. Period. “Menswear” didn’t always take a backseat to feminine attire; just take a look at the Mad Men era and you will see that dapper dress wasn’t always thought of as something that only intellectuals, urban dwellers, and gay men donned. From Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” to the NBA style wars and from the suited up Brooklyn hipster to the small town dandies creating style sites to add to the burgeoning number of “menswear” blogs, it is clear that dapper is experiencing a revival.

While this is good news for masculine presenting folks who want more options for dressing dapper, dapperQs are still underrepresented in the market. Blogs, magazines, and designers are few and far between in comparison to what is available for cis-men. Enter Duchess to the rescue. Founded as a one-lady operation in 2005, Duchess offers high quality suits and other garments, both custom and off-the-rack. We interviewed Duchess to bring you more about the brand, the Duchess vision, and their approach to troubleshooting dapperQ fit issues.

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dapperQ: Can you tell us a bit about Duchess?

Duchess: Duchess, Clothier is a small group of talented individuals who are passionate about creating the perfect garment that reflects each client’s vision. We strive to provide our employees fulfilling work-lives and our customers the thrill of high quality suits and other garments, both custom and off-the-rack, as well as excellent, impassioned, and insightful service.

dapperQ: How did you come up with the name Duchess?

Duchess: Duchess was the name of our founder’s car in high school. In other random trivia, she later procured a row boat aptly named “Duke.”

dapperQ: How would you describe the Duchess aesthetic?

Duchess: Transmutable. Each individual has their own unique style, and our designs are simply a beginning to a much longer conversation with the client. Every detail is lovingly and painstakingly gone over in the consultation process, from choosing the fabric, stylistic details, fit preferences, and notions to over twenty measurements of the clients body.

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dapperQ: Can you tell me a bit about the history and evolution of Duchess?
Duchess was founded in 2005 as a one-woman operation by Seyta Selter. She was designing reproduction vintage clothing for women when she became obsessed with vintage suits and the prospect of people dressing in a manner of old that is comfortable, attractive, and commanding. Soon the focus shifted entirely to custom and off-the-rack suits and shirts, inspired by vintage details, but with a modern fit.

dapperQ: Who or what inspires your designs?

Duchess: We are inspired by vintage designs, but take equal parts inspiration from the people we meet and the beautiful setting we live in. Portland has an independent spirit and individuality that has supported us allowed us to grow – it’s doubtful this enterprise could have existed anywhere else in the world. We do take cues from what’s going on in the fashion world, such as when a customer wants to have her pants pegged up in the style of Tom Ford, but are in our element when someone brings in a one hundred-year-old vest found at a flea market that they want reproduced for their own body.

dapperQ: Many of our readers have problems finding masculine clothes that fit them properly. How is Duchess addressing this issue? Are there any obstacles that you have to overcome to achieve the same fit for both your male and female identified clients?

Duchess: Communication is the secret to success. Our approach has always been to sit with the client and listen to their preferences, observe their personal style, and ask the right questions. The advantage we have is that most retailers are behind the ball when it comes to understanding the language of masculine v. feminine silhouettes, let alone anything in-between. Our goal is that each person feels comfortable throughout the process to the final result, whether they walked in not knowing what they want, to those who want to choose every style element separately.

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dapperQ: Do you see queer fashion as being different from more normative, mainstream fashion? If so, how?

Duchess: Perhaps because of our narrow focus, or because suits haven’t changed much in the last 200 years, our perspective is mostly that people just want to look good and be comfortable. Our focus is on the individual, some of whom are flamboyant (which of course we love), but for most, the setting apart is in the quiet details, letting the person shine through. When one dons a suit that is made specifically and especially for them, they experience a higher sense of self-esteem, dapperness, dash, and pride that radiates – we live for that.

dapperQ: What can we expect next from Duchess?

Duchess: We’re still in throes of wedding season, which keeps us pretty busy from March-August. Once fall begins, we’ll catch our breath and start dreaming up our next collection.

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