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Wharf Brings Hot Preppy Fashion to Downtown Providence

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

 

Wharf makes them like they used to. This men’s clothing and wares shop opened its Providence store on a prime corner on Westminster Street on Friday.  If you’re a man who doesn’t want to search far and wide for the perfectly pressed jeans, classic button-downs, and well-stitched sweaters that subtly exude comfortable elegance, this is your place.   

Wharf opened as a men’s clothing store in owner and founder Rob Babigian’s hometown of Warwick in 2010, but after immediate success Babigian made plans in December to open a shop in downtown Providence.   

Even on opening day, the store has already achieved the perfectly comfortable, newly worn look of just-faded khakis. Jeans and outerwear are draped on custom-built shelving that is designed to look like the hull of a ship.    

"It's different on this side of the Bay."

The theme is clearly casually nautical; the name Wharf is both a throwback to Babigian’s familial roots in the seafood business as well as a reference to Rhode Island’s seafaring heritage.  Even with old-school prep roots, Babigian does want to keep things a little edgier. “I don’t want it to be ‘Newport nautical.’  It’s different on this side of the Bay.”   

There is certainly a hipper quality to the store, a mix of industrial history and modern prep. Sweaters pour out of Babigian’s great-grandfather’s WWII trunk and he has used his family’s comfortable leather couch as a front-piece in the store. The shirt factory he uses in Fall River, Massachusetts donated the steel metal coffee table and steel chairs. 

Babigian estimates that Wharf sells about thirty brands, but they all share one cohesive aesthetic: true prep with a slightly modern edge. Though this look hinges on classic simplicity, anyone who has looked for the perfect, casually effortless garment knows that this search is much harder than it should be. 

Babigian tells the classic business story; he looked and looked for something he wanted, discovered it didn’t exist, and so decided to make it for himself. He describes himself as a “guy’s guy” and his build as normal, and he still couldn’t find well-fitting clothes. So he designed his private label to his fit, knowing that it would fit other guys who were built like him.  

Crafted button-down shirts

Pointing to the crafted button-down shirts from his label, he says, “It’s a staple.  It’s not detailed or flashy, but it’s quality-made.” The clothes from his label show the dedication to detail and perfectionism that is necessary to achieve this classic look.   

He manufactures these shirts in Fall River, while the canvas bags are made in Rhode Island. “I wanted to support the local economy,” he says, and admits to the greater level of control working with a local factory allows. “I have great relationship with the factory. It’s more hands-on. I can just visit, I don’t have to wait to get a sample and then approve it.” 

Though Wharf has a clear preoccupation with material history, Babigian knows how to keep the look updated. “It’s a big trend now to focus on heritage, stuff from the archives,” he says. “When I make a shirt, it’s not archival. It’s utilitarian.” He is not interested in the trend of old-school style, but rather in its practicality and its well-made qualities.    

“I guess that does make it timeless,” he says, “but if the same thing made sense once upon a time, it makes sense today.”  

Wharf Clothing and Wares, 212 Westminster Street, Providence; Tuesday – Saturday 11am-6pm and Sunday 12-5pm. www.shopwharf.com

 

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