Commercial Progress Report

Fine Lines

by Patrick Flanagan

Longtime men's retailer of Italian clothing unveils new, modern space just across the parking lot.

Famed menswear store F.Camalo is celebrating its 36th year in business by relocating across the parking lot to the former Molli space at 416 Heymann Blvd. On March 1, F.Camalo will open its doors to a modern space showcasing its selection of exclusive clothing from Italy. But its reputation for sartorial splendor and impeccable service will remain the same.

Photo by Robin May

Frank and Peggy Camalo

Owner Frank Camalo has come a long way since his early beginnings in the retail market. Back in the 1970s, he worked for about 18 months at Max's men's store on Oil Center Drive owned by well-known Lafayette entrepreneur, Max Heymann. Max's carried hip casual wear and was just starting to get into carrying proper business attire when Heymann decided to sell the store, structuring a deal with budding businessman Camalo. "Max and Herbert Heymann helped a lot of people get their starts in business, and I will never forget them mentoring me," Camalo recalls.

With Heymann's backing, Camalo continued to operate the store as Max's for four years. In 1981, he branded the business with his own moniker, F.Camalo. During the late '70s and early '80s, he noticed the emerging influence of Italian designers like Giorgio Armani on the American menswear market. "Armani really revolutionized the way men dressed," Camalo observes. "Things were softer and less structured, but at the same time, followed the lines of the body. It was a very flattering fit. Aesthetically, the Italians have just done it for years. And, their fabrics have always been the best in the world. I guess I just related to that."

From that point, F.Camalo started carrying Italian brands, including Armani, Canali, Luciano Barbera, Trussini, Ravazzolo, Zanella, Tino Cosma and Italo Ferreti. "No one in town was doing it," Camalo says. "The younger professionals that were coming up didn't want to dress like their fathers. They still wanted to be classic, but with a twist. And we've always strived to be classic, but at the same time, do it with a certain degree of luxury, aesthetics and longevity of fabric and style."

In 1990, the store relocated into a larger space at 458 Heymann Blvd. With the expanded square footage, Camalo carried both men's and women's clothes. After about 10 years, Camalo decided to concentrate on the men's side, where he had gained a loyal following.

Camalo does most of his buying in New York, traveling to Italy every other year "just to get an overall sense of what's going on." F.Camalo features everything for the well-dressed man including suits, jackets, trousers, shirts, ties, weekend wear, jeans and leather and suede jackets. The inventory also includes bench-made shoes by Gravati and custom boots by Lucchese.

Over the years, F.Camalo added made-to-measure custom suits from Ravazzolo. Ravazzolo clients include past U.S. presidents, business executives, attorneys and other professionals. Customers select the style, fabric, lining and buttons, and Camalo ships off the order to Vicenza, Italy. In about three weeks, the client has a stylish new suit that will last for years. The store also carries custom shirts by Mel Gambert, which are delivered within 21 days after fitting. "Our custom suit and shirt business continues to grow and is an important part of our business," he says. "My clients enjoy the process of selecting their fabrics and models, and really personalizing their clothing. Plus, we can get the fit as close to perfect as possible."

For the 15th straight year, Esquire magazine named F.Camalo one of the Top 100 menswear specialty stores in America. "It's all about quality and service," Camalo says. "My seamstress, Mary Ann Hebert, has been with me for 33 years. She deserves a lot of credit for the way things go out of the store. We realize that when a customer leaves here in one of our suits, it's a total reflection on us. We just try to do the best job we can."

Camalo runs the store with his wife, Peggy. Her daughter, Justine Gerald of Interior Design Solutions, designed the interior for the new location. Under Gerald's guidance, the space has been totally transformed, with new carpet, paint and softer lighting. Outside is a courtyard, where Camalo plans to spend time with his special customers enjoying po-boys and sipping wine.

With more than four decades in the retail industry under his belt, Camalo has no plans to retire. "I just love my business," he says. We have developed and earned these customers' trust over the years, and it's nice to have a relationship this long with your clients. And now, their sons and grandsons are coming in. That's fun and very rewarding; it really is."