An Interview With Commonwealth Proper

With custom-made pieces that pique interest far beyond the city limits, Commonwealth Proper is the exception to the quantity-over-quality rule that seems to dominate the apparel industry. With show rooms in both LA and Philadelphia, the bicoastal-based brand churns out both ready-to-wear and custom clothing, focusing on a clientele they refer to as the “contemporary gentleman.” caught up with owner Craig Arthur von Schroeder to gain some insight on CMMP’s beginnings and to get a backstory on the brand that’s bringing crisp, impeccably keen design back to the modern man.

Aroundphilly: How did you start Commonwealth Proper?
Craig Arthur von Schroeder: I started a men’s sportswear line while I was in law school. And, as a practicing attorney, instead of taking traditional vacations I traveled to China, Hong Kong and Macau in search of manufacturers to support this endeavor. While it was a great experience, it taught me that I was in fact more keen on producing garments of high quality than high volumes and low price.  So I decided to fold that endeavor and begin anew, this time with more classic menswear made here in the USA. I saw a niche in the professional market for slim fit shirts that flattered a man’s physique, but were at the same time functional and appropriate.  It took a few years, but I created a pattern that fits most in shape men.  That’s how the company was born.  Then I went into custom shirting and now custom suiting.  I studied how all garments are made and worked with some of the country’s preeminent craftsmen to create my line.  The result is we only offer the best merchandise available anywhere.

AP: Who is your key demographic? What type of people do you expect to see wearing your clothing?
CS: In general, we have two types of clients. The first is a guy who knows he should dress with more forethought and wants to upgrade his wardrobe. We work with this type of client to educate them on what types of garments will work best for him, in his particular line of work and his particular lifestyle. For example, a tech entrepeneuer will likely dress more casually than say a Wall Street Banker, so we’d recommend a few versatile sport coats and blazers for the techie to pare with jeans and for the Banker we would look to full suits.  This is oversimplified, but suffice it to say we work with each client to develop an appropriate wardrobe.

The second general type of client is the guy who has all of the basics covered: navy and charcoal suits, white and blue shirts, etc.  This is the guy that demands more interesting details in his clothing, e.g., we offer bone buttons from the Civil War era, custom suit linings, velvet collars and suede piping.  This client wants a work of art.  And we work with that client to create a masterpiece.

AP: Can you explain the name, Commonwealth Proper?
CS: In the 1800s, Philadelphia was a leader of this country’s garment production. Philadelphia tailors were revered as expert craftsmen and artisans. In this rich tradition, the name “Commonwealth Proper” was chosen.

The term “Commonwealth” pays homage to a group of progressive Philadelphia tailors who, in the late 1800s, founded a labor union to improve working conditions. Their credo: “That is the most perfect government in which an injury to one is the concern of all.”  We at Commonwealth Proper believe in the collective good and our company is run that way.

The term “Proper” denotes our belief that men’s clothing, above all else, should fit properly. You can sacrifice a lot of things related to clothing, but fit is not one of them.

AP: How many locations do you currently have?
CS: Our first shop, our “flagship,” is located on Rittenhouse Square at 1732 Spruce St.  We have a fine selection of cigars and whiskey for our clients to indulge before or after a consultation.  We’ve recently expanded to Los Angeles and are working to really launch that in 2012.  New York City is so close that we go in and out on a weekly basis and may establish a showroom there as well in the months to come.  But Philadelphia is indeed the soul of our company.

AP: Do you come up with the suit designs on your own or do you have a design team?
CS: Commonwealth Proper has several partners that work with clients on an individual basis and we all design to a degree.We give as much of the design ability to our clients as they request and it is usually a collaborative effort. We suggest certain details and garment elements based upon the individual, so, e.g., a new client has requested a traditional English Morning Coat (with tails) for his wedding. He served in the military so we are obtaining buttons from his service to be put on the coat.  This is the type of thing that makes our company different than most – our creative input is shaped by the clients we serve.

AP: Can you describe the type of suits you make?
CS: Our house style, the one that we recommend, is a one-button, single breasted notch lapel coat with flat front pants, no cuffs and side, besom pockets.  We think that this is the type of suit most contemporary men want. All of our suits, however, have the same goal in mind – to give the client just enough edge and at the same time be appropriate, letting the client feel he’s a bit outside the box even though he likely works within it. We serve the modern gentleman rebel, one that is underserved here in Philadelphia and even beyond. Each suit is distinct and different even if its conservative as requested by the client. All men are not the same and their suits are simply a reflection of how they see themselves and want others to see them. We sell confidence, so the client knows that they are well fitted and look their best.

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Michelle Mass

Michelle is a West Chester University graduate originally from the fist-pumping area of the Jersey Shore. Luckily, she was able to shed her ways, and has been a Pennsylvania resident for 8 years. With her love for reality shows, vodka-diets, writing, and the city of brotherly love, there is always a good story on the tip of her tongue.

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