Photography By Kevin A. Roberts
After a career in finance, St. Louisan Brian Simpson has been busy learning the ins and outs of retail. Simpson and his wife, Lauren, own East + West (205 N. Kirkwood Road, 314-835-1419), a men’s boutique with coastal flair. The store, which opened in July, offers casual apparel from emerging brands around the country.
What led you to open East + West?
I had the idea of opening my own shop, and really what got me moving on it was that my wife and I traveled a lot. I’ve seen the great things going on in other cities, and I thought I could offer St. Louis something new. I have an emphasis on products made in the USA and on service. The styles and the lifestyle I portray here fits what you would see in New York or San Francisco.
What advice do you give to shoppers?
The thing I always educate on is quality, fit, and then comfort. I think it’s important to buy quality because it lasts longer. I think a lot of guys here don’t understand how things fit. Even if they are in great shape, they buy clothes that are way too big and don’t fit them properly. You can look really nice in well-tailored clothes, but you’ve got to be comfortable because then you project confidence.
Are there any challenges that have surprised you about running a men’s boutique?
I think the one thing that has been both good and challenging is that a lot of the brands I carry are exclusive to St. Louis. The hard part about that is that most guys who don’t stay on top of that don’t know about these smaller, up-and-coming brands. That’s been a hurdle. But we have an atmosphere where guys are comfortable to come in and hang out, and I’m able to tell them about the different pieces. What’s cool about a men’s store is that we can do different events, like featuring different bourbons.
What’s available in your shop at the Collective at MX?
I tried to do a small version of our store. I took a few different styles of shirts, denim, shoes, and some of our grooming and skincare line to give people a taste of what we do. A lot of my potential customers live downtown or go downtown quite a bit, and Nicole [Benoist] has done a great job of bringing together different shops. Even though we are in the County, I really care about downtown progressing and growing.
What gifts would you recommend for those hard-to-shop-for men this holiday season?
A really easy thing that guys appreciate is shaving products. With the Mad Men revival, I think a nice shave kit or skincare product would be good. A lot of times you can get those pretty cheap. The two things I would say are the must-have looks for the season are a little more expensive. One is shawl-collar cardigan or sweater, which is a great thing to layer with a shirt or military jacket. We also sell Baldwin denim. They have been getting really popular, and celebrities like Jay-Z have been wearing their stuff. If you are willing to invest in a pair, they are second to none.
Do you have a women’s section?
We have a small collection of women’s basics, like denim, shoes, and a few different coats. Some of the men’s brands have women’s as well, and I pick out a few complementary items. But I don’t know women as well, so I refer them to Blush or Paperdolls.
Join Simpson from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, November 30 for drinks from Salt and giveaways. A portion of the proceeds from the evening will benefit Movember, an organization that seeks to raise awareness about men’s health issues.