Wingtip Club is an unusual store for an elite clientele.
Founded in 2002, the menswear store based in San Francisco comes with its own clubhouse, complete with a wine cave, barber shop, cocktail bar, and bespoke tailoring shop. It attracts mostly middle-aged men working in finance and technology, according to founder Ami Arad.
Wingtip Club charges monthly dues and a one-time admission fee between $US1,000 and $US3,000, depending on the number of visits a member wants to make annually. It’s a pioneer among the handful of brands that pamper and offer places to socialise inside brick-and-mortar shops — a tactic to help them compete with popular online retail companies like Bonobos, Everlane, and Amazon. Even retail giant Nordstrom is testing a tiny new store that doesn’t sell clothes.
Take a look inside Wingtip Club to see if it’s worth the price.
In a city where the workplace uniform is mainly hoodies and startup tees, Wingtip Club offers a touch of class to the tech and finance worlds. No sandals, no shorts, no service.
It's not the only private club in San Francisco, with the Bohemian Club, Pacific-Union Club, Olympic Club, and San Francisco Golf Club blazing that trail more than a century ago.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
Wingtip Club opened its first San Francisco store in 2008 and piloted the clubhouse at a barbershop nearby in 2010. The two concepts combined at the current address in 2012.
The nascent Wingtip Club isn't considered among the ranks of those super-elite men's clubs. What it lacks in old-school prestige, it makes up for in amenities and broad appeal.
Wingtip Club attracts a different crowd than most private men's clubs in San Francisco. For starters, it has welcomed women since the beginning. It also draws a younger membership.
The century-old men's clubs in the city have struggled for years to bring in young blood, largely because it takes years for younger men to work their way up the waiting list.
Wingtip Club currently has about 900 members, with an average age of 45. Women make up about 11% of membership.
Wingtip Floor occupies four floors of the original Bank of Italy building, built after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It's divided into two areas: free to enter and what restricted.
The ground-floor store is open to the public. It sells designer-label shirts, pants, sweaters, and accessories, ranging from ties and belts to Patagonia down vests and wingtip shoes.
Wingtip Club leases out parts of the space to brands that share its affinity for the 'finer things in life.' Here's Lost Cost Outfitters, the city's only retailer of fly-fishing apparel.
Master barber Joe Roberts works magic with a straight razor and clippers in a hidden barbershop. Clients can relax with a beer or whisky during their haircut or shave.
Today, it's home to bespoke tailoring shop 11th State Custom Clothiers. Founder Catherine Conway and her team create made-to-measure suits from over 3,000 luxury fabrics.
Clothiers takes numerous measurements, including posture reads and shoulder slopes, to ensure the perfect fit. It promises service that can't be matched by department stores.
A quick elevator ride whisks members to the top two floors, where the members-only clubhouse is. Staff knows most of the 900 members by name, so there's no sneaking in.
Wingtip Club has three tiers of membership based on the frequency of visits to the clubhouse.
A 'visiting' membership includes five visits per year and costs $US25 in monthly dues and a one-time membership fee of $US1,200. The more frequent 'social' membership allows six visits per quarter (24 times a year) and costs $US125 in monthly dues and a one-time fee of $US2,000.
The most expensive tier is the 'regular,' named for how Arad, the founder, hopes members consider themselves when at the clubhouse. It includes unlimited access and costs $US200 in monthly dues along with a one-time fee of $US3,000.
All membership levels come with a 10% store discount.
A wall behind the front desk pays tribute to the founding members of Wingtip Club, whose names are written in shoelaces. The display features varieties of wingtip shoes.
Members can take advantage of some amenities for free. Sennheiser, maker of the world's most expensive headphones, leaves sets on loan for members to use.
A lending library applies the 'take a penny, leave a penny' approach to luxury watches. Members can borrow a wristwatch as long as they leave one of theirs behind.
There were less than a dozen watches on the display when we visited.
At some of the men's-only social clubs in San Francisco, conducting business is strictly prohibited because women don't have access to those same opportunities, Arad said.
Members can bring up to three guests to the clubhouse at any time without advance notice.
The wall of board of directors features Tony Stark ('Iron Man'), #2 ('Thunderball'), Miranda Priestly ('The Devil Wears Prada'), and Blake ('Glengarry Glen Ross'). Their portraits were done by Kevin Sprouls, creator of the Wall Street Journal portrait style known as hedcut.
Additional meeting rooms are inspired by traditionally masculine tastes. The Tuxedo Room features plush leather chairs, chandeliers, and portraits of Frank Sinatra and James Bond.
The Leather Room, which is outfitted with taxidermy busts, includes a two-way mirror that transforms into a monitor. Members can hook up their laptops and give presentations.
It even has heated seats and parkas available to borrow on brisk San Francisco days.
The crown jewel of Wingtip Club is the bar -- a large, mahogany island with 25 seats around it. Members entertain guests over craft cocktails, a glass of wine, or a dram of whiskey.
The drinks aren't free, despite the fees attached to a club membership. Arad said part of the allure of drinking at a members-only bar is the exclusivity. Guests never have to cram into the bar area and shout a drink order. The bartender might even know their name and order.
Wingtip Club brings together amenities in a place where men (and woman) are free to be 'gentlemanly,' according to the brand. 'If it had felt like a frat house, we would have failed miserably,' Arad said.
He added that because the clubhouse charges admission, he's duty-bound to keep the experience fresh and inviting. Otherwise, he loses members to online retail giants.
'Retail is changing fast. Amazon is eating people's lunch,' Arad said. 'If you want to survive, you better have something that Amazon can't copy or do cheaper.'
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