Winging It

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Wingtip was one of the early adapters in the growing trend that has seen successful online retail businesses set up physical stores to extend or raise the prestige of their digital presence. And it’s a good thing too. If, in your nightmares, you look into a future where the Internet is the only shop as you desperately wander abandoned shopping districts in search of a retail fix..

Wingtip opened its physical luxury lifestyle emporium for men in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district a few years back. In fact, you don’t really get more in the heart of a financial district than occupying the historic former Bank of Italy premises.

Launched in 2004 as an online business by Ami Arad, the initial multi-brand offer of luxury heritage brands and mid-price leisure wear with a stylish, traditional feel rapidly expanded into a full-blown lifestyle promise for men. Everything from home furnishings and grooming products to cigar accessories and high-end sporting equipment can now be bought online in addition to the core clothing offer.

Ami also smartly opened The Club, a members’ club with a physical space that proved a massively popular asset to the business since it effectively makes manifest the lifestyle with which the retail items are associated. Indeed, it was the success of The Club that gave birth to the physical store in 2008.

But, in signing the long-term lease on a massive space, Amadeo Pietro Giannini’s 1908 Bank of Italy building, Arad consolidated his activities into one vast lifestyle hub. In addition to the retail offer on the street level, The Club offers a range of amenities including a barbershop, vinoteca, private dining establishment and gaming parlour.

This has made the do-nothing approach to the original banking hall that now houses the shop ideal. Naturally, a lot of thought has gone into the furnishings and fittings. But the approach has been to leave much of the original operatic interior intact. The swathes of pale Carrara marble, the gold-leaf detail on the ornate mouldings of the ceiling and the solid power of brass fittings all conspire to conjure up an era of men who knew what they were about and how to make money. Even the decorated teller windows have been polished up and left in place, again, emphasising rather than hiding the building’s original function. But, of course, without a little humour, nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. So, one or two amusing touches have been added, just in case you make the mistake of thinking you really are in an irony-free zone.

The patrons of Wingtip are almost certainly aware of which century they live in; smart enough to make the distinction between appreciating the best of men’s apparel traditions while understanding contemporary social attitudes. Nonetheless, it’s proof that a subtle kind of irony has become a powerful commercial force, particularly where male consumers are concerned in a world where Feminism is real. Furthermore, you can bet your bottom dollar that all the trappings of the original bank ensure that Wingtip’s electronic vaults fill up just as satisfyingly as the physical ones in this bank once did.

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