Lansky Bros. was honored at The Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City on July 21, 2008 with an achievement award from MR Magazine, the leading men’s fashion trade publication. The Uptown/Downtown Awards are presented to retailers who have shown extraordinary retail innovation.
On presenting the award, Karen Alberg Grossman, MR’s Editor-in-Chief, described the store’s rich history in Downtown Memphis and their influence on fashion around the world. “They began as an army surplus store in 1946 and have grown into a wonderful fashion icon in the Lobby of the Peabody Hotel, which includes Lansky at the Peabody and Lansky 126. They’ve outfitted such rock legends as Johnny Cash, Elvis, Isaac Hayes, Robert Plant, and B.B. King.” The stores are run by three generations, which include Bernard Lansky, Bernard’s son Hal and granddaughter Julie. The store continues to be a destination spot for tourists and Memphians alike looking for a unique selection of sportswear.
Lansky Bros. makes a dressy Presley--and more.
Bernard Lansky has a lot of Elvis stories. “Anything he wanted, we got him fitted,” remembers Lansky. “He always came to us.” Lansky says the future King of Rock used to gaze at hip clothes in store windows when he worked at the Loews Theater in Memphis. At that time, he couldn’t afford anything—but that changed. When Elvis needed clothes for a trip to New York to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, he came to Bernard Lansky for help. “I put his first suit on him, and his last suit on him.”
It was the place for the Memphis music scene to go for clothes: When Johnny Cash needed a black suit, Lansky helped him, too. Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis all shopped Lansky Bros.
Since opening as an army surplus store in 1946, Lansky Bros. has evolved from a rock-and-roll outfitter to a 10-store big-and-tall chain. It finally settled into its current mode of upscale sportswear merchant in the lobby of the historic Peabody Hotel, in downtown Memphis.
But one thing remains constant: founder Bernard Lansky. “I’m 81 and I’m still working,” Lansky brags. “I get to the store at 9 a.m. every day.” And he does mean every day—Lansky works seven days a week. Lansky was joined by his son Hal, who doesn’t remember not working at the store, and granddaughter Julie, who got into the family business after college.
Lansky at the Peabody, which sells sportswear, and Lansky 126, which sells men’s and women’s contemporary denim, are both open 365 days a year. “We’re workaholics,” says Hal. He and daughter Julie had to convince Bernard to slow down. “He used to come in at 6 a.m. every morning and leave at 6 p.m.” Julie said.
Hal’s no slouch himself—he’s there seven days a week, too. If Bernard is the store’s ambassador, his son Hal is the man who holds it all together. His job is a little easier now that one of his twin daughters joined the family business. Most of Julie’s work is focused on the Lansky 126, which is located next to the main store in the Peabody lobby. As the buyer for Lansky 126, Julie travels with her father to all the trade shows. She also designed the Web site, which has a celebrity sightings section and e-commerce.
“It is a destination for anybody who is in the Elvis world,” marvels Barbara Nast Saletan of Nat Nast. Saletan has done innumerable in-store events for Nat Nast at Lansky Bros., and she’s still amazed at the distances people will come to get their picture taken with Bernard Lansky, the clothier to the King. “The little iconic details of Elvis’ look all came from Bernard,” she explained. But it’s not just the Elvis connection that makes Lansky great. Saletan calls him the “premier sales person in the store.”
While they do a brisk business with brands like Nat Nast and Robert Graham, they also do very well with their private label “Clothier to the King” line of Elvis-inspired sportshirts ($95 to $175) and accessories. “We sell sizzle,” explains Hal Lansky.
“We’re not in the retail business, we’re in the tourism business,” Hal and his daughter Julie both like to say. Many of their clients are hotel guests, but they have lots of repeat customers and a good online business (British shoppers love the Clothier to the King line). And, they say, local business is increasing as more people move to downtown Memphis.
FOUNDED: 1946 by Bernard and Guy Lansky
SIZE: Lansky at The Peabody: 1,800 sq. ft.; Lansky 126: 2,000 sq. ft.
MEN'S vs. WOMEN'S: 80/20
CLASSIFICATIONS: Sportswear 65%; furnishings 20%; denim 15%
TOP VENDORS: Lansky at the Peabody: Nat Nast, Robert Graham, Hiltl, Tulliano, Ike Behar, Tailorbyrd, Robert Talbott Lansky 126: 7 for all Mankind, Lacoste, Diesel, Citizens of Humanity, Michael Stars