VK Nagrani is not just a business man. He's a style guru for men in need of something more than a fast, anonymous retail experience. He considers his store his home, and his clients are like his brothers. "It's not really a shop," Nagrani says. "It's a place you come to to elevate your sense of being. It just makes you appreciate the finer things."
With his eponymous store, Nagrani is redefining the New York shopping experience. The first floor of his boutique is meant as a buffer to separate the casual shopper (or the occasional lost tourist) from those seeking the real deal. A vending machine of luxury socks stands to the right of the entrance, along with a selection of shirts and jackets curated by Nagrani. There's also T-shirts, scarves, and grooming kits stocked on the shelf above.
Just behind the counter, a section furnished with repurposed post office boxes holds cubbies to deposit cell phones. Next to them, a staircase leads down to Nagrani's modern speakeasy, which caters to a particular kind of man: His customers are successful, work hard and play harder, but remain boys at heart.
As I enter the sublevel, I find Nagrani sitting with three other men around some glasses of Jane Widow bourbon. Are they friends? Employees? Clients? It's not clear, because that's just the kind of place VK Nagrani is. Comradery is the standard for anyone who enters.
According to Nagrani, our era of fast fashion is missing something. While bars and restaurants remain convivial, social spaces, men's retail today is designed as a quick in-and-out errand. "Product is one thing, but the experience is essential," he says. "People are yearning for a different experience, especially today when the world seems to be falling apart."
He walks behind a bar made from Milton Bradley video game chips from the '70s and '80s. He pours me some bourbon into a glass hand-crafted by a Michigan artist. Each one is unique, requiring six to eight weeks to complete. They're custom-made for the store, featuring a gorilla's head engraved on the bottom - Blue Gorilla is the name of VK Nagrani's holding company.
It's just the beginning of the full experience, which involves putting on a pashmina robe and some velvet slippers. The owner insists on making his clients feel totally relaxed while he gets to know their taste and sartorial needs. Nagrani continues the tour of his "bat cave" - Bruce Wayne is his model client and muse, he says.
But his regular customers are his first priority. He keeps a collection of wooden barrels on a shelf: Each one bears a client's name engraved on the front, and contains his "poison of choice."
The floor is painted with the design of a backgammon board "because checkers was too cheap and chess was too pretentious," Nagrani explains. Next to the bar, a door leads to the courtyard for guests who prefer a hand-rolled cigarette with their bourbon. A painting features Superman and Batman in a romantic embrace. "The idea is men will always be boys," he says. "And we designed this place to reflect childhood."
The entire space is the ultimate fortress for the young at heart. Style is present in every detail of the decor, but so is personality. Each item sold here is made by independent artisans, rather than big corporations, from the nail clippers (made by a Japanese man whose family has built samurai swords for centuries) to the shirts (which come from family-owned businesses in Italy), everything is carefully curated, and nothing is left to chance - except finding the perfect outfit.
VK Nagrani: 87A East Houston Street, New York. To make an appointment, call (212) 684-4333 or go VKNagrani.com