Part of the beloved New York restaurant’s fall overhaul: new gear from the king of understated style.
When Todd Snyder talks about designing clothing, he often uses cooking analogies.
“I’ll tell my team, ‘All the ingredients are known, it’s how you put them together that’s unique,'” the designer says. “I always say that if I weren’t in fashion, I’d have gotten into cooking.” So it makes sense that Snyder is outfitting the waiters at Eleven Madison Park, the storied Manhattan restaurant, for its fall overhaul after a brief summer residence in the swanky beach town of East Hampton.
Snyder first got in touch with Eleven Madison Park’s Michelin-starred chef Daniel Humm and restauranteur/EMP co-owner Will Guidara when he opened his Madison Park-facing flagship store last year, and enlisted them for a series profiling stylish men who worked nearby, called Madison Men. “I’m not this kind of diva where it’s all about me,” Snyder says. “I like to tell my story through the lens of other people. I love working with the people I’m inspired by.”
Eleven Madison Park certainly counts as inspiration: It received the World’s 50 Best Restaurants’s top honor this year. So the re-opening and renovation—a new dining room, a new kitchen, a new menu, and those new uniforms—is freighted with anticipation. So it goes without saying that everything, including what the servers will be wearing, is given serious consideration.
“Our general ethos is that we like to surround ourselves with cool, good, normal people who try to do extraordinary things,” says Guidara of the decision to enlist Snyder’s help with dressing the staff. “There’s no affectation whatsoever to him.” That sense of easy sophistication is shared by Snyder’s design and Guidara’s establishment: it’s has earned the former a CFDA Award nomination, and the latter an incredibly rare four star review from the New York Times. (“The remote formality that typically comes with punctilious service has been banished,”Times food critic Pete Wells wrote in 2015. “Servers want to make you an active collaborator in the fun. As Bacall said to Bogart, it’s even better when you help.”)
Both Snyder and Guidara enjoy the process of working with others. “We’re very big on collaboration — first with our staff, but also famers, porcelain makers, wineries with co-branded labels, the list goes on and on,” Guidara says. Snyder collaborates, too, working not only with his design team, but also a slew of collaborations — with Champion, Timex, and Moscot, to name only a few. Seeing that line-up of partnerships cemented Guidara’s desire to have Snyder help dress the staff. “We went to Todd because the problem we were trying to solve for was, we wanted maintained a sense of formality but also had a little bit of an approachable, familiar, casual vibe.”
Snyder worked with the Eleven Madison Park architet, Brad Cloepfil at Allied Works, to ensure that everything worked in tandem, and met with the staff to hear about their needs during a shift. “For the most part they wear suits, but they’re serving food and there’s a lot of action involved,” Snyder says. “We want to make sure it’s functional, but that it looks good and it goes with the decor and it fits in.” Thus the outfits are made from a special four-way stretch worsted wool that is stain-resistant, anti-smell, and water-resistant. On a recent morning, staff was amazed to see the way water, when spilled on a suit jacket, simply beaded up and sat on the surface.
Custom-designed pockets deftly hide the arsenal of tools servers need handy: a wine opener, a crumber, a notepad and pen, a lighter — it’s all there, but naturally no bulkiness gives the secret away.
There are small variations on these custom-fit designs (luckily staff needs to merely walk around the corner to Snyder’s shop for a fitting) rendered in neutral earth tones mixed with charcoal grays and rich blue-olives. Three different-colored ties help differentiate staff roles. “It’s all very autumnal,” Snyder says. “Nutmeg to olive to a petrol green. When we were designing I was like, Gosh we need to have this in our collection.”
If all goes well, diners won’t necessarily walk away thinking “Wow, those suits were great!” but with the impression that everything was pitch-perfect—not fussy or overdone, but easy and expertly-executed. “They’re created an experience—the ultimate experience,” Snyder says. “For them being our neighbors, I wanted to do whatever I could to be a part of what they’re doing. They’re just great people. When you study what they do it makes you love it even more, the amount of thought and detail that goes into everything they do, every meal.”
Guidara echoes the sentiment. “This is really important. We want it to look good … always! Not just the day they try it on.” He also stresses the fact that, in the end, it was a fun experience. “Todd and his team were amazing,” he says. “We’re students of any creative person who’s been successful in their field, we’re excited to meet them. And sometimes the degree of success and the degrees to which someone is down to earth doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand. But he’s just awesome. I’ve had a lot of fun with him. And that’s the best you could hope for.”