By Dana Sizemore
Mark Twain once argued, “The clothes make the man.” Crittenden Rawlings is the man who makes the clothes. His “Crittenden” namesake line of top-quality menswear—available at his Crittenden Fine Gentlemen’s Clothing store in Midway, Lexington’s Crittenden Upstairs and more than 150 high-end men’s clothing stores across the country—is as unique and stylish as the designer himself. Rawlings enjoys the way good clothes make him feel and revels in the opportunity to create clothing that will make other men feel the same way.
Rawlings’ passion for fine clothes started at a very early age. He credits his father, a sharp dresser, with sparking his own interest in clothing, and growing up on a farm near Lebanon with teaching him how to work. “Getting up early to feed and work the farm—now that is real work,” he said. It was from this farm that the young Rawlings would hitchhike to Lexington and Louisville to stroll through the men’s stores and dream about someday being able to afford a purchase. Rawlings said his success can be largely attributed to a “great Kentucky work ethic, passion and a whole lot of luck.”
During high school, Rawlings held his first job in men’s fashion, working at George’s department store in his Lebanon hometown. He liked the clothing industry so much, he later turned down a Campbellsville University basketball scholarship to work for a traveling salesman from a Cincinnati clothing company. His mother was not happy about the decision but eventually conceded. After nine years, he moved on to work with the esteemed New Jersey-based clothier Norman Hilton. Rawlings calls Hilton, the King of the Ivy League Era in American clothing, “a master of style.”
While working with Hilton, Rawlings jumped at the chance to learn about merchandising. As Rawlings describes it, merchandising is “literally going to the fabric mills and picking out the fabrics that a collection would be built from.” This gave him the opportunity to travel the world studying the most luxurious fabrics available. He credits this extensive knowledge of fabrics with propelling his career.
While working for Hilton, Rawlings assisted with the development of the first line of men’s suits for a then-young designer named Ralph Lauren. Rawlings later worked with Lauren for 10 years. He finished up his career as CEO for the Chicago-based Oxxford Clothes, known for its custom-made, high-quality men’s suits. During his time at Oxxford, Rawlings had the privilege of outfitting President George W. Bush.
A prominent fixture in the men’s fashion industry for more than 50 years, Rawlings had an exciting career that took him all over the world, but he says he always knew he and his wife, Judy, would someday return to Kentucky. He came full circle, retiring to a Mercer County farm, but could not stay idle for long.
Just after his departure from the fashion business, Rawlings noticed a
tremendous increase in the price of men’s suits he felt was “ridiculous.” Inspired by “Kentucky gentlemen and their interests in clothing,” and fueled by his intolerance for the price hikes, Rawlings said he set out to create his own line. His goal was to fashion a garment of high quality at a reasonable price point, but suited for today’s more “relaxed way of dressing.”
In 2003, the first Crittenden collection was released. True to his aim to create easy-to-wear, high-quality, reasonably priced clothing, Rawlings launched his line with an unstructured sport coat, which lacks heavy padding and lining. Using a technique known as French facing, his coats are reinforced without adding bulk or stiffness. Not only are his clothes functional, they are beautifully made. He draws inspiration from classic clothing styles of the past and an amassed portfolio of fabrics he calls his “fabric library.”
“Paying attention to detail is important to the customer, and that is why my clothes feel like such a good value,” Rawlings said. From the design to the fabrics to the tiniest details, a Crittenden piece is unique.
Rawlings’ customers agree. “I got no less than four compliments on [his Crittenden sport coat] when I wore it to Fresh Market,” said Jerry Grasso, vice president of corporate communications at Lexmark. “Critt’s clothes strike the balance. They fit nicely and contour to the wearer’s physical attributes. His palette is interesting and a touch outrageous without crossing the line … Critt’s unlocked the secret of ‘less is more’ in his design. And his clothes are really comfortable. It’s a jacket you can wear all day.”
Rawlings’ latest endeavor is The Bluegrass Collection by Crittenden. This line, inspired by the colors and lifestyle of the Bluegrass, consists of locally crafted belts, over shirts, casual jackets, and duffle and computer bags.
Every thread of Crittenden Fine Gentlemen’s Clothing is bound by Rawlings’ passion, knowledge and years of experience. The final product is something really special, as is the man who makes the clothes.
Debonair Derby Attire
The design for the Crittenden sport coats worn by our three gentlemen is based on a coat owned by the late Duke of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII). They feature high-quality details typically found on much higher-priced clothing, including 100
percent silk butterfly yokes and piped seams, hand-finished armholes, and hiked, hand-wrapped buttons.