Perhaps no one understands the importance of the phrase “dress for success” as well as professional men on the North Shore. For Bonnie Murphy French, custom men’s clothier and founder of Murphy French & Associates, the significance of her work frequently goes beyond the garments themselves. “I always look at it as: If the client looks fabulous, Katy bar the door, there’s nothing going to stop him!” Murphy French says with a laugh.
While many of her new clients have little to no prior experience ordering custom menswear, Murphy French’s proficient knowledge, open availability, and warm personality make the entire process quite effortless. She designs custom patterns for shirts, suits, trousers, blazers, overcoats, and formalwear, and assists clients with ordering ties, socks, shoes, suspenders, and belts—all of which is done via appointment in her clients’ own homes and offices. With her selection of 2,000 fabrics for suit coats and trousers and almost 400 fabrics for shirts, her clients have a vast array of options for their wardrobe. Whether you prefer wool from England and Scotland, silks from Italy, or mohair and cashmere from the Far East, all of Murphy French’s fabrics come from the absolute top fabric houses in the world, and her menswear pieces are made by two of the oldest and most distinguished custom manufacturers in the United States. The entire process—from the initial consultation to delivery—takes only about six weeks for suits, and three to four weeks for shirts. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the fact that Murphy French will then maintain her custom products for the remainder of their lifespan.
As she takes her clients through the custom design process, Murphy French asks a series of detailed questions, such as whether they prefer to keep their car keys in their trousers or suit coat pocket. “I make them think more about their garment than they’ve ever thought about it before,” she says. By focusing on the specifics, Murphy French ensures that her clients will not only look professional and tasteful, but they will also feel comfortable all day long. “My whole philosophy is that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression,” she explains. “With my help, my clients don’t have to worry about how they appear; they can focus on their work.”
With a wealth of experience, Murphy French has found that both her passion and talent lie in the field of men’s tailoring. Initially, she began her career as a women’s fashion designer at Dallas Apparel Mart in Texas. She first became interested in men’s clothing when a friend, who was a men’s tailor, asked her to stop by his office to fix a problem with a pattern. After helping solve the problem, Murphy French wandered around the store as her friend began to shut down for the day. It was then that she fell in love with men’s fabrics and designs, and she decided to return to school to earn her master’s in tailoring.
Once Murphy French finished her degree, she worked for a men’s tailoring company for two years, during which she quickly rose to become one of the top three salespeople in the state of Texas. After experiencing such rapid success in the men’s clothing field, she knew she had found her niche, and consequently decided to start her own business in 1985. In 1993, Murphy French made the big move to Illinois, living in Naperville before settling into her current home in Lake Bluff.
When it comes to helping her clients, Murphy French strives to provide a comprehensive service. “For any given occasion, I want them to be able to walk into their closet and come out appropriately attired; whether it be working in the yard, a picnic, a cocktail party, work at the office, or a formal black-tie affair,” she says. “I want to ensure that I cover all of their wardrobe needs.” She also aims to educate her clients on their wardrobe options, which is an important part of the custom design process. “Men often have a tendency to be creatures of habit, but if they always wear that navy suit, white shirt, and red tie together, it becomes a uniform,” Murphy French explains. “I show them how they can pair that same navy suit with different shirts and ties to give them completely different looks.”
Murphy French says the outcome of her efforts are often very rewarding. “One of my favorite parts of my job is when I put that suit on a client for the first time, and he swells up and looks so proud,” she says with a laugh. For many of her new clients, the experience of wearing a custom suit is the first time they actually feel good. In the past, they might have tolerated garments sold in retail stores that roll up under the collar, don’t have enough shoulder or bicep room, or are poorly constructed. For these clients, especially, the comfort and style of a custom garment are particularly significant. While women are usually the ones to be admired for their appearance, Murphy French reminds her clients that they can expect to hear flattering remarks from their peers, coworkers, and family members. “Inevitably, they will start getting compliments,” she says with a smile.
Murphy French & Associates is located at 736 Western Avenue in Lake Forest. For more information, call 1-800-494-1503, or visit murphyfrench.com.