January 29, 2013

Out & About: Wingtip

The Financial District of San Francisco is an interesting place. I’m there all week but I rarely venture over during the weekend as it generally becomes quite desolate and empty without the bustle of business. However, I decided to change that and went on a weekend visit to the infamous Wingtip (formerly On the Fly), now located in the shadow of the Transamerica tower in the historic Bank of Italy building.

Now, before I even get in to talking about the store I think it’s worth giving a bit of background on the Bank of Italy building. As someone who designs buildings for a living I think it adds a nice bit of context to the whole experience. 

The bank of Italy was founded in 1904 by the Italian-American Amadeo Giannini, a produce buyer living in San Mateo. Although he led a successful career, he found that San Francisco’s financial system had a philosophy of “big banks for big people,” making it near impossible for common men and women to find a loan. This often pushed these people towards seedy loan sharks and other dangerous companies. The fact that the financial capital of the West would finance millions of dollars for a railroad and would refuse $50 for a farmer’s home improvement was infuriating to him, and so he single-handedly created a “bank of the people” that would choose customers based on their character, not by their net worth. This small, simple idea was exactly what the Bay Area needed, and the young bank was an instant success with common men and women all over the state. The bank is now commonly known as the Bank of America. Without Giannini’s simple startup the landscape of banking as we know it would be radically different; his work helped democratize banks and bring them to the individual level.

The Bank of Italy building was built in 1908 after the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed the original bank on Columbus Avenue. The beautiful building served as the headquarters of Giannini’s company until 1921, at which point the company had outgrown the structure and moved to a new location. It has housed several banks in the interim and is now a National Historic Landmark. Through some miracle, a classy men’s store was able to nab the space for their own use, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The first thing you will notice when entering Wingtip is the architecture. The soaring marble ceilings and enormous windows contrast the thick steel vault doors and brass fixtures. You’ll probably stand around for a few minutes looking at the detailed molding before you realize that you’re actually in a well-curated men’s store. Bank vaults are lined with Luciano Barbera ties, marble hallways hide Alfred Sargent oxfords, and cashmere sweaters are piled on billiard tables and persian rugs. The main floor holds the ready-to-wear clothing and accessories, and the underground bank vault is home to the bespoke level - dozens of Holland and Sherry fabric books litter the walls like ancient tomes, and each of the locked drawers in the bank vault hold the information for a single bespoke customer. The second floor carries the elite member-only club - more on this soon.

So whether you need an alligator belt, badger brush, bespoke Prince of Wales flannel suit, or just want to look at the scenery, trot over to Wingtip and take a look. I have yet to make a substantial purchase there, but it has become my go-to for Saphir  - the lovely french shoe products that are almost impossible to find in a brick-and mortar store. If you’re in the area I highly suggest that you take a look sometime, whether you’re planning on dropping big bucks or not.

Wingtip also has a web store that can be found here.


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