Originally opened by her grandfather as an army surplus and uniform store in 1946, Bernard Lansky saw an opening in the Memphis market. Most men’s fashion at the time was traditional and clean-cut. He instead brought high fashion, glitz, glamour and “stage style.” Bernard was dressing musicians like Duke Ellington before he met Elvis. At his shop on Beale, his vision for Elvis created fashion that shaped history. Today, the father and daughter team, Hal and Julie Lansky, are continuing his legacy as second and third generation owners.
After graduating college at University of Colorado at Boulder, Julie had plans to move to Chicago and work in advertising. But during a summer spent working at Lansky’s, she remarked to her father about their company website. “It was a simple flash page. We spent so much time cultivating relationships with our out-of-town customers. You may never see them again. I felt like we were missing business.” She was charged with rebranding their online presence, and it turned into her full-time career. “I knew nothing about websites,” she admits. “But I learned.”
“When I was younger, I was so timid. I used to be unable to even tell a shoe salesperson my size.” Being exposed to retail changed that. “Everything we do is about customer service. And that includes lots of eye contact,” she laughs.
Julie swiftly moves between the four locations in The Peabody lobby. She checks on the new logo’d material in the Memphis Pop-Up. They designed Memphis wares, the latest with an electric guitar as the “i” in Memphis. The teenagers and college kids love the Memphis x Champion sweatshirts.
Next stop: to ensure that duck umbrellas are restocked in the gift shop, Lansky’s Gifts at The Peabody. “If there is a duck, I will find it,” she shares about their trips to market. “It’s all on theme.” The bright store is full of joy inducing ducks: Vietri pottery, vintage duck decoys, Christopher Radko ornaments, kid’s t-shirts, Dinstuhl's chocolates, toys and loads more. Not just for tourists, it’s a must hit for holiday and gift shopping.
Walking to their women’s store, Lansky 126 for Her, Julie explains her approach. “We are not traditional retail but retail tourism. I want the Memphis local to feel like she is shopping out of town. And the tourist to find something unique. And of course, some staples in case she lost luggage.” You’ll find colorful prints from the Spanish line Vilagallo, music tees by Recycled Karma, hats by Wyeth, statement leather and basics like Frame denim, ON Running and Vuori. There is a nod to Elvis fans, with sequin t-shirts, from their collaboration with, Queen of Sparkles.
Part museum/part retail, Lansky at The Peabody Men’s Shop, is the men’s store that started the family affair. It’s where noted musicians like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were shopping in the 50s and 60s. Their most famous client, is alive and well in the shop. Julie points out a blue sweater that Elvis wore in Jailhouse Rock “Both men and women wear it.” Blue suede shoes embroidered with TCB are next to guitars signed by Lansky fans like Tom Petty and Robert Plant. Not everything is rock and roll style. They also carry European lines like 7 Downie St. and Meyer, along with American sportswear lines like Johnnie-O and Greyson.
Before close one afternoon, she joins an on-air broadcast for Sirius XM in preparation for Elvis week. They naturally cover the biopic hit movie, Elvis. The movie is already garnering Oscar talk with critical acclaim and box office success. Filmed in Australia, director Baz Luhrmann, costume designer, Catherine Martin, and star, Austin Butler, made a special stop to Lansky’s to learn as much as they could about Elvis’ fashion.
Julie recalls their visit in 2019, before filming began. “They wanted to get the details right, down to the nuances of his collars. How did he get dressed? Why did he wear his belt buckles to the side and button only the bottom of his jackets.” She explains that Elvis started wearing his belts to the side to mirror car mechanics. And the buttons on the jackets? It was so he could dance better on stage. Their family had insight to it all, even the iconic pink and black suit that Bernard Lansky selected for Elvis’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. Julie explains, “Back then, men did not wear pink. But Elvis was determined to stand out.”
“We have been around for 76 years. The way I see it, we’ve had success because we have changed with the times. And every decade really tells a story,” says Julie.
So, what’s it like to work with your dad every day? “My dad has always joked about family businesses. First generation makes it. Second generation maintains it. Third generation either screws it up or cashes out,” she laughs.
Hal says of working with daughter Julie, “We’re having fun with what we’re doing. And now I know what my dad felt like working with me. I am proud to work with Julie- it's a real privilege. Plus we get to have lunch together every day.”
Julie continues, “Of course, this is a family business, but I try to approach it with an entrepreneurial spirit, like my grandfather and father did. I have such respect for our history but also our customers and community.”
Julie is continuing the legacy of being an “exporter of Memphis” of our city’s place in history, culture and fashion.
The Lansky Brothers stores at The Peabody Hotel are open Sunday – Thursday, 9am – 6pm and Friday and Saturday, 9am – 7pm.
Article by Amy Birdsong Golden
Photography by Izabella Sandoval
Originally published in River City Lifestyle