Most designers have to hire the tallest, leanest, meanest, prima-donna models to show their clothes to best advantage. Everett Hall's clothes are shown off by basketball stars. Who needs a Cindy or Claudia when you can have a Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues or Isaiah Thomas paying to wear your designs in their off-court time? Everett Hall even gets to sit courtside and cheer his guys on.
After a decade in the big leagues, the Silver Spring designer still doesn't play fashion games -- no airs, no phony accents, no tantrums -- and that may be one of the reasons the Everett Hall label of innovative suits and separates is quietly and steadily making points with men who want to wear quality.
The company started out doing custom work for super-sized athletes. It built a national following and received kudos from magazines such as GQ. Now it's getting into retail.
The company is all in the family. The partners in design are brothers Everett Hall, 35, and Edwin, 31. Younger brother Eric, XTC 29, works the new Everett Hall Boutique which opened in July in Montgomery County. "We felt there was a need to show the full range of our designs, something other retailers cannot do for us, no matter how loyal they are," says Edwin Hall. Everett saw the fashion potential near their home turf. The store is set in the glitzy Chevy Chase Pavilion, on a stretch of Wisconsin Avenue that's home to other fashion heavy-hitters such as Nieman Marcus, Saks, an Armani shop.
The Hall brothers have the look and the location right. Steely mirrors, spare decor and clothes displayed as they are meant to be worn. No cramped racks. The ambience inspires confidence security even though the clothes break a few rules.
James Brown, host of the NFL pregame show for the Fox Network and college basketball commentator for CBS has been wearing and touting Everett Hall designs for about eight years. "When I was working CBS football, the on-air uniform was the blue blazer, I wore single- and double-breasted versions the Halls made for me as well as custom shirts. In the industry which falls into the entertainment arena, the athletes can be more avant-garde, I have to exhibit a proper degree of restraint -- with a -- of pizazz that they do very well," says Mr. Brown.
"With Fox there's a studio deal for show clothes, but when I do features pieces on the road, I wear my own clothes and nine times out of 10 it will be Everett Hall," he says. "I first wore their clothes to Redskins training camp and the players were impressed. Charles Mann and Art Monk became clients."
Not bad for two high-school jocks who grew up in Springfield, Ohio, where their father, an auto plant worker was their clothes role model and mentor. "He loved clothes," says Everett Hall, "and he taught us to be picky and selective."
Everett was the brother who discovered he could make clothes to his own standards. He learned to sew as a kid and hasn't stopped since. No one ever told him that sports and sewing didn't mix.
The sports connection remains strong in their business even though the Halls took some turns at frillier projects. After Everett graduated with a degree in fashion and merchandising from Howard University in 1983, he and Edwin settled in Maryland even though their talents were being noticed in New York.
Everett did a line of women's clothing which was carried by Saks-Jandel, but he felt there was more promise in menswear. He was a young finalist for the prestigious Cutty Sark Award. In 1992, the brothers were showcased as rising stars by the Men's Fashion Association.
Besides their Silver Spring boutique, the Everett Hall label is carried nationally and locally by fashion-forward retailers such as George Howard, The Total Male and Rothschild's. Expensive yes, but fine-tuned. Around $800 for a suit.
"I was one of the first to recognize and buy from their line about five years ago," says Harvey Hyatt, owner of Hyatt & Co. "They have a marvelous sense and feel for fabric and drape and know how to work unexpected fabrics such as wool crepe into menswear."
The unexpected is what appeals to loyal clients. "I believe in designing added value to our product," says Everett. That translates into fine linings for trousers and longer cuts so that a potential 6-foot-7 customer gets enough in-seam without going the custom-made route. The Halls understand extra-tall design even though their own 6 feet are below the NBA average.
They retain and pamper their custom-made client list and are prepared to fill an order called in mid-game, but they really want to expand their ready-to-wear business to an audience that doesn't earn super-salaries.
Algia Ford, manager and buyer for Baltimore's Total Male stores says the signature Everett Hall line has a strong following here. "They give a very full cut, pants, dolman shirts and easy dropped shoulders. It's a line that helps the retailer, because I can handle the very tall guys and also the bulkier, wider build."
And the Halls are known for maintaining personal ties with their supporters. "Since they're so close, we see them in the store and that personal touch sells," says Mr. Ford. He notes the stores move about $40,000 of the Hall clothes a season -- substantial for a specialty retailer.
"The Halls are believable, they understand athletes and are very knowledgeable about football and basketball," says James Brown. "When I was trying to get into better shape for TV, they went jogging with me and ran me ragged. They're athletes and athletes like to deal with guys who understand their clothing needs."
As Everett Hall sees it, there is no reason to sacrifice comfort for styling as some menswear designers are doing by moving to a narrower cut in three and four-button jackets. "Men want ease," says Everett Hall, "and if we jump on a trend we'll lose them." His way with fashion is in the details -- subtle trapunto embroidered logos on a pocket, precise stitching and the best fabrics. All produced by the 20 employees at their Silver Spring workshop.
"You can go flashy or refined," says Everett Hall, "but elegance never goes unnoticed."