Men Used to Have Wives. Now They Have Stylists. - Kanebridge News
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Men Used to Have Wives. Now They Have Stylists.

By JACOB GALLAGHER
Thu, Feb 15, 2024 8:48amGrey Clock 5 min

Jay Buys’s wife changed his life with 10 words: “You know, you don’t have to just wear band T-shirts.”

Shirts from Nine Inch Nails and Thrice—for years, this was the bulk of Buys’s wardrobe. Were they awesome ? Yes. Did they make him look like the CEO of a successful web design firm? Not quite. “If I looked better, I would’ve felt better,” said Buys, 44, of San Diego. So he hired someone to teach him to look better.

For most, the term “stylist” brings to mind a celebrity dresser putting Timothée Chalamet in a bombastic red carpet outfit. But there is also an industry of white-collar stylists helping hapless corporate types find the right shirts and trousers for their daily lives.

For Buys, that guy was Patrick Kenger.

Kenger runs Pivot, a personal styling service, charging as much as $5,000 to remake your wardrobe. Kenger’s job is part Marie Kondo, part therapist and large part a personal shopper. He helped Buys retire the band tees at work, subbing them with Suitsupply blazers and Bonobos trousers.

The switch had a Superman-bursting-out-of-the-phone-booth effect on Buys. “​​I look like I know what I’m doing.” Strangers seem to think so, too. He was startled when a random 20-something at the grocery store saw his leather John Varvatos jacket and chirped, “I like your drip, bro!”

Today, strivers in tech, law and finance are wealthier than ever, but corporate dress codes have collapsed. The hoodie-clad billionaire has become a cliché. In the C-suite, Loro Piana sneakers have trounced dress shoes. Fleece vests have vanquished ties. At the same time, we’re in a new era of boardroom boasting.

Executives crow about their pay packages, their workout routines (looking at you Mark Zuckerberg!) and the rarity of their sneakers. To look like you haven’t bought new clothes since we all clutched BlackBerrys is to risk being lapped on the corporate ladder.

So, if you’re sitting there confidently dressed and accepting compliments on how well your pants fit, congrats! But there are many men who lack the skills to piece an outfit together. Stylists say their work has ballooned in the past decade as the range of options on what’s office “appropriate” has waylaid even confident corporate leaders.

“Men are very confused right now with the dress codes that have blurred the lines of formality,” said Jacci Jaye, a white-collar stylist in New York City for two decades, whose services start at $3,800 plus expenses. Jaye, who works solely with executives, said that many of her roughly 50 clients knew what they liked in terms of style, but had no idea how to achieve that look.

“I looked sloppy and I didn’t want to look sloppy,” said Raj Nangunoori, 36, a neurosurgeon in Austin. He spent working hours in scrubs, but out of them, he was adrift. “Even shorts, like I was never great at picking out shorts,” Nangunoori said.

Around a year ago, he googled in search of a stylist and hired Peter Nguyen, a former menswear designer turned $10,000 stylist. Nguyen’s entrepreneur- and tech-type clients are long on money, short on time and scant on clothing knowledge.

Nguyen’s first step is a lengthy questionnaire: What music do you listen to, what are your hobbies, where do you vacation? “I view my clients like they’re characters in a movie,” he said. They give him their background and Nguyen’s job is to outfit that character.

The pair landed on a neat framework for Nangunoori’s new look: What would Ryan Reynolds wear? Prosaic tees were swapped for polo-neck sweaters and James Perse chinos were tailored to fit properly. Nguyen got Nangunoori into a pair of Common Projects minimalist $500-ish sneakers. Most importantly, he convinced him to ditch his shopping mistake paint-splattered jeans.

“I can’t pull off what Travis Scott’s wearing,” said Nangunoori, relaying all his hard-bought wisdom.

Like working with a trainer, some clients are wary of admitting they enlisted a fashion guru. One CEO I spoke with who hired a stylist told his business partner he had done so, only to be mocked. After that, he decided “I’m not talking to anyone.”

“I never had my own confidence in going shopping and buying suits or dress clothes or even my weekend stuff,” said Nate Dudek, 42, an executive at a software company living in East Hampton, Conn. A “technology nerd,” Dudek wasn’t born with a strong visual sense. “That goes from everything from picking a wall color in my house to the way I dress.” His tees-and-jeans wardrobe was as spicy as a glass of milk.

In 2022, about one year before co-founding his own company, Dudek “set out to invest in myself” by hiring Cassandra Sethi, a New York stylist behind the company Next Level Wardrobe whose services currently start at $5,500. Dudek’s wife, who has “killer style” and occasionally shopped for him, took some warming up to the idea. “She was like, ‘Why? I’m so good at buying you clothes!’”

But Dudek wanted an objective outside advisor—someone who didn’t know him as intimately as his wife—to overhaul his closet. (His wife has come around, and is relieved to not be his unpaid personal shopper.)

He never even had to meet her in person. Sethi shipped him boxes of clothes and over a three-hour Zoom session they deduced what suited him best. The transformation, Dudek said, “was fairly obvious.” Colleagues commented that he was carrying himself differently in his new grey Ted Baker blazer, and Save Khaki United’s trim tees. “I felt it too,” he said.

It is a cliché—but a factual one—that in many relationships, the wife or better-dressed husband is the begrudging fashion consultant. Supreet Chahal, a personal stylist in Oakland specializing in tech guys, says many clients come in saying “my girlfriend tried to help me, my wife tried out on me, but she keeps dressing me the way she wants me to look.”

Marco Rodriguez’s former girlfriend didn’t shop for him, but did steer him towards Nguyen a few years ago. “She was like, ‘Hey listen, I know you hate shopping,” said the 39-year-old musician and entrepreneur in Austin.

And oh, he did. Rodriguez could never find pants that fit his “interesting physique.” When he needed new clothes, he had to force himself to buy them. His style was directionless.  I knew what I wanted but I just didn’t know how to get there.”

With Nguyen’s assistance, Rodriguez landed on a sort of “Soho boho, I hate to say rockstar” look of low-key Justin Theroux-style leather jackets, Chelsea boots and pieces from Parisian label Officine Générale. The experience “got me out of my comfort zone,” Rodriguez said.

The mindlessness that comes from working with a stylist is enticing to efficiency-obsessed tech workers. “I don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking in the morning,” said Michael Peter, 53, a principal architect at Google in cloud technology. Previously, he dressed like your standard tech worker—jeans, tennis shoes, the odd Batman tee—but a lightbulb went off during one meeting when he watched a better-dressed colleague take charge.

“He walked in the room, he had gravitas,” said Peter. Striving for that same effect, he hired Sethi of Next Level Wardrobe. She directed him toward a “refined elevated casual look” of slender-but-stretchy Vuori pants (which accommodate his gym-rat legs) and James Perse polos. Rather than his girlfriend telling him what to buy, he says, she’s stealing his clothes “all the time.”

To be sure, all of this comes at a cost. Businessmen I spoke with view the hefty fees as an investment, like renting a well-appointed office.

“The cost didn’t faze me a bit,” said Aaron Preman, 48, who owns a roofing company in San Diego, and hired Kenger at around $3,500.

“He taught me a lot in a short amount of time,” Preman said. He discovered that wintery colours suit his olive complexion and that he really likes Theory suits and Zegna ’s $990 triple-stitch sneakers—he now owns several pairs. The cost of everything—the guidance, the clothes—has been worth it to Preman. “He could’ve told me $10,000 and I would’ve said, ‘Okay, when are you coming over?’”



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BLACKSTONE’S PRIVATE-EQUITY RETURNS TRAIL THE S&P 500
By Andrew Bary 19/07/2024
By Andrew Bary
Fri, Jul 19, 2024 3 min

The S&P 500 index has been crushing private-equity returns in the past year, and Blackstone ’s second-quarter results illustrate that trend.

As part of its earnings release early Thursday Blackstone said its corporate private-equity returns in the year ending in June were 11.3%. That compares with a 24.5% total return for the S&P 500.

In the prior year ending in June 2023, the S&P 500 topped Blackstone with a 19.4% return against 9.7% for the firm’s corporate private-equity business, which has $145 billion of assets and remains one of its most important areas along with real estate.

Blackstone is the leading alternatives firm with over $1 trillion in assets under management and has the largest market value of any public investment firm at more than $160 billion.

Driven by Nvidia , Microsoft , Apple , Amazon and other big technology stocks, the S&P 500 has handily topped most asset classes in the past several years.

Another sign of more difficult times for private equity came earlier this week from Calpers, the $503 billion California pension fund, when it reported it s preliminary returns for its fiscal year ending in June . Calpers is one of the first major endowments or pension funds to report results for the June fiscal year. undefined The pension fund, a major player in private equity, said its private-equity investments gained 10.9% net of fees—although that figure is lagged one quarter. Calpers’ public-equity investments were up 17.5% in the year ended June—its strongest asset class. Private equity remains a favorite of many pension funds and leading university endowments like those of Harvard and Yale. Their view is that private equity can beat public-market returns over the long term.

But the private-equity business has gotten tougher in recent years due to keen competition for deals, higher interest rates and a less receptive IPO market, which has made exits tougher.

And private-equity portfolios of firms like Blackstone look nothing like the S&P 500, given their investments in small to midsize companies.

Blackstone, for instance, bought a majority stake in Emerson’s climate technologies business last year and more recently purchased Tropical Smoothie, a franchiser of fast-casual cafes. It also holds a stake in Bumble, the publicly traded online dating site, and it’s an investor in actress Reese Witherspoon’s media company, Hello Sunshine. Blackstone’s corporate private-equity business runs $145 billion and has 82 investments, according to the firm’s website.

Blackstone’s private-equity business has strong long-term returns including a gain of over 50% in the year ended in June 2021 when it handily topped the S&P 500 index.

But the S&P 500 index has become difficult to beat more recently and it’s dominated by some of the best companies in the world. It carries less risk than private equity, given the cash-rich balance sheets of its leading companies like Apple , Microsoft and Alphabet .

Private-equity firms, by contrast, often use considerable leverage to boost returns. Investors can get exposure to the S&P 500 through index funds that charge 0.1% or less in annual fees and with immediate liquidity.

A key risk with the S&P 500 is its vulnerability to a selloff in the leading tech firms that now make up over 40% of the index. The recent rotation into smaller companies illustrates that.

Blackstone shares gained 1.1% to $136.31 Thursday in the wake of its earnings news as investors focused on rising investment deployments and positive management comments on the firm’s outlook.

The firm’s nearly $40 billion of inflows and $34 billion of capital deployment during the second quarter marked “the highest level of investment activity in two years,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Schwarzman said in a statement.

Citi analyst Christopher Allen wrote in a note to clients on Thursday that while Blackstone’s overall performance was mixed, the outlook appears to be improving given fund-raising and deployment trends.

Investors also were heartened by Blackstone President Jon Gray’s comments about a bottoming in commercial real estate and strong capital deployment in that area.

But ultimately, the game for Blackstone and its alternatives peers is about performance—particularly beating low-fee public investments like the S&P 500. That seems to be getting more difficult.