John Carroll Interview
(Carroll and Company - Famous Beverly Hills Retailor For Men's Clothing)
For over 62 years now Carroll and Company has been dressing prestigious actors, directors, writers and producers.
Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Dean Martin, Fran Sinatra, and Rock Hudson are just some of the celebrities who’ve walked through their doors.
We spoke with John Carroll, President of Carroll and Co. about his business.
Q - Richard Carroll started Carroll and Company. Is that your father or grandfather?
A - That was my father.
Q - He was a publicist at the Warner Bros. Studios.
A - Right
Q - What stars did he handle publicity for?
A – Oh there were a lot of them in those days. This was like the mid-40s late 40s. So we had Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, and Tony Curtis. With that of course came Janet Leigh, Eva Marie Saint. There were a lot of important people in those days who he was working with. Sometimes he would be on a project and he wouldn’t even know who it was for. Some major star needs to be picked up and he’d have to get into a limousine and go to somebody’s house pick up and escort somebody he didn’t know who he was going to pick up. Out would walk Joan Crawford and he would have to take her to some premier.
Q - Those were the glory years of Hollywood. How did he get so lucky to get a job like that?
A - Well, his brother was a writer. His brother was significantly older so he was pretty much established as a writer in Hollywood and after the war, his brother called him and said, you should come out to California because the studios are hiring. There’s jobs out here. The family was from Brooklyn my father came out and got a job right away. That’s sort of how it all came about.
Q - Carroll and Company has gotten this reputation as a place to go for men’s clothing.
A - Well, we certainly would like to believe that. With our history, with the amount of time we’ve been here, the people we have been fortunate enough to call as our customers over the years, we do have a very loyal customer base and very fortunate that we’ve been able to survive the test of time and continue doing what we’re doing.
Q - Do you have competition or not much?
A - We have competition. Were certainly not the only game in town. Competition today is different than competition was 20 or 30 years ago. You have the Internet to deal with today. You have catalogs that you didn’t have as prevalent way back when. The department stores are much stronger today than they were in men’s wear. Men’s wear was an afterthought to Saka, Neiman Marcus and those places. But today, they put their best foot forward when it comes to men’s wear. And the other thing we have to deal with is so many of those designers have their own freestanding stores today. There’s not a lot of independent men’s specialty stores like we are, but, there are a lot of places where men can go to buy clothing today.
Q - But you also have a presence on the Internet, because I saw your website www.carrollandco.com
A - Yeah we do.
Q - Do you sell from the website?
A - We do a little bit. It’s not a huge part of her business and it’s mostly driven by our catalog. We just sent out a catalog out in the fall and winter of the year. So a lot of the business is driven by the catalog. But it’s not a significantly major part of our business. Most of what we do is really done in the store.
Q - When a Robert Redford George Clooney or Tom Cruise walks into Carroll and Company your tailoring their clothes are you?
A - Well, let me pre-face that by saying when you talk about the Tom Cruises and those people, we can’t really call them customers, because we have done clothing for them for movies and TV shows. It’s not like they walk in the store. Certainly the celebrity factor today is much different than it was as you call it in the Glory Days on whatever of Hollywood. Frank Sinatra would just walk in one day. Jimmy Stewart would stroll in on a Saturday. Fred Astaire would come in looking for a specific belt or tie or something like that. But today you have so much outside intervention with celebrities whether they have stylists or publicists who direct them what they should be wearing and what they shouldn’t be wearing. It’s a different kind of business with the celebrities today. And also, a lot of the celebrities are given clothing by a lot of designers and manufacturers or they work it into their contract that after the movie is finished they get to keep the wardrobe. We don’t show any preferential treatment or special attention. Were very, very careful about treating all of our customers the right way and equally so we don’t discount anything or give anything away, even to the studios. If they come in to buy something, they’re going to pay the same price as everybody else is. So there are a lot of other stores and a lot of other businesses that will give things to celebrities to try and get them on their back. They want to keep them in their store so they will give them a discount, but it’s nothing that we’ve ever done. William Holden would come in. Purchase a few things. We’d either put it on a credit card or send him a bill and he would pay it. That was it.
Q - Were you ever in the store growing up, when Frank Sinatra would walk in?
A - Yes. I met Sinatra on a number of occasions. I’ve been involved in the store probably since I was 11, working in the stock room, working after school. So I’ve done the time so to speak. As a young kid to meet a Jimmy Stewart, a Paul Newman, a Lucille Ball, these were people I watched on television growing up. When I was 14, 15 years old I would be working in the store and actually got to meet them was quite exciting for me, for a young kid.
Q – What do you remember about Frank Sinatra ?
A – I helped him. I met him on a number of occasions. There was no fan-fare when those guys came into the store. There was no paparazzo following them.
Q - Was he surrounded by an entourage?
A - No. He’d have a guy with him usually it was his sidekick Jilly (Rizzo). He was kind of his confidant, but there was no big deal. Gene Kelly used to live up the street. He would walk down to the store and come in. I never met Clark Gable but he would come in and have lunch with my father. He’d come in and in those days he was a drinker and he’d come back into the store and sit in the suit room and sort of read the paper for half an hour. It was a much simpler time. Tom Cruise can’t go into a store without being followed by probably 12 photographers today.
Q - If a Tom Cruise walked into your store, and someone else happened to walk in and see him, they might get very excited.
A - You’re right. But keep in mind our customer is a little more seasoned a little more local, a little more sophisticated. They’re kind of used to seeing celebrities around town whether it might be in a restaurant or other places so we like to call our store one of the most comfortable stores in town. Nobody’s going to rush up to a young celebrity and ask for an autograph or a picture. It’s just not our thing.
Q - You probably get a lot of tourist come through in Beverly Hills?
A - We get a lot of tourists in Beverly Hills, but we don’t get a lot of tourists in our store. We’re not an international name. We really are a local establishment. I would venture a guess to say that if you’d ask 100 people on the west side of Los Angeles if they’ve heard of Carroll and Company I’ll bet you 80 of them would say they’ve heard of us. It doesn’t mean they’ll all shop here but they’ve heard of us. But yet go out of the state and were certainly not very well known.
Q - I guess what I was getting at is when Sinatra would go into a restaurant, he would eat in a closed off area so as to not to be disturbed did you have a special room for celebrities like Sinatra to go into and look at your merchandise?
A - Not really because our store is really not laid out that way. We would certainly have him in a fitting room and we would bring stuff into the fitting room to show him but again he was very comfortable walking around the store. There was more of a respect for these celebrities back in those days. Today things are so overexposed. You see them on every website. You see them in people magazine. It’s almost like you know them today. If you see Kim Kardashian today in a yogurt store, I mean you see her every day somewhere on something, on a TV show on the Internet. But when you saw a Gregory Peck in a movie and then you saw him in person, you are almost in awe. You are almost intimidated to go up and approach them. I think that was certainly much more prevalent than it is today. A star was really a star back in those days.
Q - Did Elvis, or any of the Beatles come into the store?
A - We never had Elvis. I did meet Ringo Starr in here once. I have to be a little careful because I don’t like to talk about any living customers or celebrities. I’ll talk about anybody who’s no longer with us, (laughs) but I’m really very, very careful about talking about anybody who is still alive. I respect their privacy.
Q - You supply TV and movies sets with clothing. That’s primarily men? No women?
A - We don’t to any ladies.
Q - How does that work? Do you solicit their business? Do you advertise? Do they come to you?
A - We have a very good reputation with a lot of the top notch costume designers in town. So when they’re looking for a specific look for a specific TV or a specific movie that’s when we’ll get them. Or if a certain actor is hired on a guest spot on a TV show will get them in the store to dress them. That’s a very important business for us again we don’t give anything so they’re paying regular price for the merchandise. But over the years we’ve dressed a lot of people in a lot of movies and a lot of TV shows. We did a lot of stuff for Dynasty. We did a lot of stuff for LA Law we did a lot of stuff for Boston legal, Commander-In-Chief, I’m just trying to think of some of those things off the top of my head. Any of those political dramas are legal dramas, a lot of those characters wore our clothing.
Q - I was on your website and saw the classic smoking jacket. That’s something that doesn’t change over the years?
A - It’s interesting about the smoking jacket, over the years we’ve had smoking jackets we’ve never really done well with them, but the past couple years things sort of hit and we’ve sold a number of smoking jackets. They change a little bit. Some people like a button. Some people like a wraparound. It just depends, but in our store it’s always going to be a velvet with the trim. It’s fun people get a kick out of it. The wear it as a tuxedo alternative or something.
Q - The Hugh Hefner look.
A - The Hugh Hefner look. Exactly.
Q - As far as your shirts and pants, tear have your own designer? Do you have a buyer?
A - I do all the buying. I don’t want to call myself a designer. I’m not comfortable being called a designer because I can’t sit down with a sketch pad and pencil and design a specific outfit or jacket. I can’t do that. I like to call myself more of an editor. I can look at an item and I can say, okay this is a great jacket, but we need to adjust this and this and change that button and more this around a little bit and sort a customize it to the Carroll and Company look, but editor is a better word for me then designer.
Q - And how many people do you have working in that store?
A - We have about 23, 24 people in the store. We do everything in-house we have our own tailor shop here. All of our accounting it’s done here. I do the buying. I oversee everything we have a very good staff, very little turnover which is very fortunate.
Q - Where do you go to buy?
A - I go to Europe couple times a year. There is a big international show in Florence, Italy that I go to. That’s when a lot of the European designers we work with, come to that show. Then you gotta go to New York, New York is very, very important. There’s a couple shows in Vegas, but between the show in Italy and the show in New York I’m really able to get 90% of what we need.
Q - Do you have children who will continue the Carroll and Company business when you decide to retire?
A - I have three children, two girls 21 in 19. I have a son who is 16. And that remains a question mark. We’ll see.
Q - They haven’t expressed an interest in that line of work then.
A - They haven’t expressed the interest I expressed at my age. I think one of the reasons I was interested in the business was that I was never pushed into the business, my father never said to me, you got a come into the store. I need you to work. He was always very, very gracious about it. It’s here if you want it. You’re welcome to come in. If you want to go out and play baseball go ahead. I think that’s why I became interested because I was never pushed into the business.
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