If you’ve ever spent more than a few days Downtown Detroit, you’ve probably encountered Nelson T. Sanders Jr. in a cafe or riding his bike. He’s the man in the suit, usually with suspenders. Everything fits. Well. Shoes always shined. He has a look that brings to mind old time movies and women who can somehow make it through a hot yoga class with a perfect face full of makeup.
The man has mastered the art of sophisticated leisure in a sincere non beard oil salesman-y way. You know that guy.
Sanders is the guy you look to for advice—who’s devoted his career to making others look and feel good about themselves. Insert line about putting on your oxygen mask first.
We sat down with Bespoke 1701’s Creative Director to talk music, fashion, and influence.
CV Henriette: 1701 Bespoke. Tell us about it. What’s your role in the business?
Nelson T. Sanders Jr.: 1701 Bespoke is a custom clothing shop in Midtown Detroit. We specialize in suits, tuxedos, shirts, overcoats, ties, and pocket squares. The company has been around since the end of 2013 and consists of Max Schmidt the owner, Keith the fabric specialist and lead salesman, and myself, the creative director and business development. We carry mostly Italian and some English fabrics. All our garments are fully canvassed and finished by hand overseas. On average, most people fall anywhere between $1800-$2300 for a 2-piece suit. Our turnaround time usually takes up to eight weeks. We design and create the patterns in house, with the long-term goal of having everything done start to finish in house.
My role is somewhat managerial, ” somewhat,” being that it’s just three of us in the company. I keep the day-to-day operations running. Outside of that I maintain input our creative direction, business development, and am the go-to connector with the city. Most people think I’m the owner because they rarely see the other guys. I’m not, I’m just the one all over our social media.
CVh: You just announced plans to start manufacturing in the city. How will this change operations? What are the creative implications and opportunities?
NS: Commonwealth Sewing Co. is super exciting. I hope that it’s beneficial to 1701, which I think it will be. Honestly, most of my energy has been focused within 1701 Bespoke. Max started Commonwealth, and as of recent, most of his energy has been focused there. If you’d like all the details Max would be your guy.
CVh: What was your entrance into fashion? What feeds the excitement?
NS: My dad is a big influence. Coming up he would inform me of certain things I should have in my closet. He taught me how to shine my shoes, where to buy a nice hat, etc. As I got older I started to apply a lot of what he taught me. My first job out of high school was in retail. As I continued to work in retail, my knowledge and passion grew. I worked at high-end stores where I learned a lot regarding fabrics and construction, and there I started to find my way.
I remember seeing photos of my dad when he was my age and he looked so great. In the 60’s and 70’s Detroit was a very fashionable city. People in general seemed to care about how they dressed. Even though some people didn’t have much they took pride in their clothing and represented on a daily basis. What I want to do is keep that spirit alive. Being a black man from Detroit, I feel it’s my duty to represent and do whatever I need to break down those negative stereotypes that are placed upon us.
CVh: Favorite places to wear a suit in Detroit?
NS: I’ll wear a suit anywhere in Detroit. People that know me see me out without one and assume there’s something going on.
CVh: How do you listen to music at home?
NS: Depending on my mood or what kind of music I’m listening to, it’s either through my Bose system or on my record player.
CVh: Name one song that’s changed you.
NS: There’s a lot of songs that come to mind. But at this moment it’s “Nic’s Groove” by The Foreign Exchange. It represents a point in my life where my style developed, I had my own car, and I stopped ordering chicken fingers at nice restaurants.
CVh: Sun sign?
NS: My birthday is December 22nd. I’m a Capricorn.
CVh: Inner avatar?
NS: Marvin Gaye with a touch of Quis from Doughboyz Cashout.
CVh: What’s the characteristic you like most in people?
NS: I like anyone who’s fun and carefree. Someone who does what they love every day and who are true to themselves. Unapologetically themselves.
CVh: Dislike the most?
NS: Someone who is fake to themselves or others, who lacks confidence or personality. Someone who’s negative or hateful.
CVh: Last book you’ve read about music?
NS: I haven’t read a book about music.
CVh: Best Live Show?
NS: I really enjoyed seeing Curren$y live at St. Andrews.
CVh: Artist You Most Wish You Saw Live, in their prime?
NS: Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Biggie, Bob Marley, and Miles Davis.
CVh: Best Musical?
NS: Not big into musicals. They’re semi-annoying.
CVh: Favorite music to get dressed to?
NS: What I’m about to do or where I’m going determines the music I listen to. If I’m going out to party it’s possibly something ratchet or soulful, upbeat. If I’m not going somewhere lively, it’s probably some chill hip, soul, funk, or jazz.
CVh: Best dressed musician? First name that comes to mind.
NS: Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye. Newest artist—I’d go Mos Def.