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Carter Collins, a 20-year-old student at the University of Kansas, shops nearby in button-up shirt, yellow sweater and scarf. When he checks out, the figures rival next semester's textbook prices: $50 for an Ever T-shirt, $90 for a Modern Amusement cardigan, $70 for an Energie belt. "I've been coming in for a while," Collins says. "This place is sick."
Collins' approval is especially important because he represents a corner of the Kansas City market that the Standard still has trouble reaching: dudes.
"My name is Brady. I'm wearing makeup today," 24-year old Brady Toops says as he takes a seat in a stylist's folding chair at the Standard headquarters. Tall and tan, his short blond hair pushed into a faux hawk, he says he spent last year playing minor league baseball in Florida. He makes the perfect public face for the Standard. He even shares the company's morals; he's a regular at the International House of Prayer.
When the Standard employees spotted him shopping there one day, they convinced him to do his first modeling gig. The result: photos that will appear on the Standard's Web site and adorn e-mails sent to roughly 20,000 potential customers. If only the Standard could convince him that its clothes are made for men.
"I look like a girl," he complains as the makeup artists powder him with foundation. "I look like a clown."
Later, in the photo studio, Toops stands in front of a white backdrop dressed in two rising labels, a T-shirt from Rebel Yell and jeans from Taverniti. A photographer circles him, snapping pictures.
"What kind are these? These are girl's jeans!" He says accusingly. The jeans are foggy blue; a shiny buckle ornament stretches across the rear of the waistband. Another stylist assures him that the jeans were made for men.
"I wouldn't buy them this size. I might buy them bigger," he counters.
He changes into a button-up, a sweater and an overcoat with elbow patches. The clothes have safety pins instead of collar buttons. Each item is novel enough to draw attention from catalog-cutout patrons in Plaza bars. Together, the effect is über-metrosexual.
The photographer asks Toops to keep his shoulders down, but he keeps raising them in a self-conscious shrug. "I've never done anything like this in my entire life," he says, trying to excuse his attire.
Toops' embarrassment highlights the key problem the company faces: Midwesterners may not be ready to embrace the Standard's dress code. The company had hoped to use Toops in the show at Blonde, but after his complaints, he didn't earn an invite.
Flumiani and the Baldwins don't entertain the idea that their clothes are too effeminate, too progressive, for Midwestern sensibilities. They hold their stuff up to what they define as the national market. "If Paris Hilton is wearing Rebel Yell, we have to have it in the store the day before," Flumiani says. They have faith that Kansas Citians care what Paris Hilton is wearing and are willing to pay for it.
The Standard's business model is to keep on top of quicksilver celebrity trends. But to predict the whims of, say, a famous hotel heiress, you have to think like one. That means doing expensive field research. Each year, Flumiani and the Baldwins traverse the country, hitting banner-name shows Magic in Las Vegas, Project in New York and Las Vegas visiting bazaars stocked with hundreds of labels showing wares forecast to be, um, hot. They also take monthly trips to observe celebutantes in the wild, haunting Los Angeles clubs. Then they place their bets and buy product. So far, the store's taste has been impeccable, and the Standard has earned a national reputation. Last year, the company's Web site, www.standardstyle.com, received nods from opinion makers such as InStyle, Women's Wear Daily and Lucky magazines, and People.com.