Photography by Benedict Evans.Groomer: Angela Dicarlo. Rae Tutera (left) and Daniel Friedman.
Derek, a groom-to-be, said of his ideal wedding outfit, "I want a suit that makes my body look as masculine as it can." As a trans man, he was self-conscious about any perceived curves. So he went to Bindle & Keep, a bespoke suit company that specializes in such concerns.
He is one of several subjects profiled in Suited, a new HBO documentary premiering in June. Directed by Jason Benjamin and co-produced by Girls' Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, the film explores how Bindle & Keep, founded in 2011, has turned the daunting experience of buying suits into a source of empowerment for its clients.
"A suit is armor," says founder Daniel Friedman from the company's small Brooklyn studio, pointing out that a suit's cut -- angular shoulders, protected upper torso -- creates the image of strength.
In that sense, Bindle & Keep is as much a purveyor of confidence as it is of clothes. But for the company's primary clientele, a suit has a more private, particular significance.
Growing up gender-nonconforming, Rae Tutera felt anxious about suits, seeing them as an expression of masculinity that was out of reach. At 25, Tutera ordered a custom suit from a tailor in Manhattan. "It was intimidating, expensive, and alienating in a variety of ways," Tutera says. But inspiring, too. "That experience planted a seed of wanting to make that experience more accessible and ideally more affordable for people like me."
Tutera learned about Friedman after seeing the New York drag king Murray Hill sporting one of his suits and reached out to him about an internship. It transformed Friedman's business. Initially, Bindle & Keep's client base was 99% typical cisgender male Wall Street types. Now, Friedman estimates the clientele is 90% transgender men or gender-nonconforming individuals, and the company makes more than 1,500 suits a year.
No one is more surprised by this than Friedman, 37, who says he hadn't given much thought to queer clients before meeting Tutera, who educated him on the needs and sensitivities of the transgender community, while learning from him the craft and business of suiting.
"Talking about gender was easy for me," says Tutera, now 31 and a clothier at Bindle & Keep. "But I had to learn how to do that through the particular lens of custom clothes. Daniel had to teach me that language." In turn, Tutera taught Friedman "the language of queerness."
Over occasional huffs of steam and the chatter of a sewing machine coming from the corner of the studio, Friedman goes on to describe Bindle & Keep's retail model as "disruptive" and "very, very powerful." He admits that its current trajectory, given its geographic reach, "isn't super sustainable," so they're figuring out how someone in, say, Fairbanks, Alaska, can also have access to their suits.
In the meantime, the business partners are focused on serving both their clients' needs as well as their own. For Tutera, that included having a wedding suit made last summer. Friedman excitedly pulls up a picture on Instagram of Tutera dressed in sleek cobalt. "It's a strong, confident color," he says. And at Bindle & Keep, confidence is king.
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