Inside Edition: Hickey Freeman President Mike Cohen

Hickey Freeman President Mike Cohen is wearing a Hickey Freeman blazer, dress shirt and tie, Crockett and Jones shoes, a Trafalger belt, Levis jeans, and Barton Perreira glasses.

Where did you begin your career?

Polo. I started in the retail store in Manhasset. Before my senior year in college I wanted to make some extra money so that I could have more fun. At that time Banana Republic was really cool, so I went to Banana Republic and I filled out an application, but they said I didn’t have enough experience. When I was walking back to my car I saw the Polo store. I thought I would never get a job there but I might as well try. And I got the job.

So what made you decide to continue on this career path after working in retail?

When I started, I wasn’t into clothes at all. I had no clothes. I bought my first blazer for five dollars because I needed one for my travel dress code when I was a college swimmer. The guy who handed out the towels, I asked him, where do you buy a blazer? He had an old blazer with a crest on it, an old heavy wool melton blazer. He said, just give me five bucks for it. That was my first blazer. That was the beginning of my love affair with blazers.

What keeps you in this business?

So when I went to work at the [Polo] store, the only reason I started working there was to make some extra money. I went to the store and it was really fun, and I loved it. I kind of really fell in love with the whole idea of working at Polo. So after graduating, I sent in an application and got a job at the warehouse. I started in the neckwear warehouse, and they really sold me on that. They told me Ralph [Lauren] started in ties, and you’re starting in ties, and they kind of built it up. It was a job in the warehouse basically. And I liked that too. It was great people and a lot of fun. Then I really got the men’s fashion bug. I just fell in love with product.

That’s what’s kept me in it, just the excitement of each season and developing product. The part I love most is selling it, communicating the vision, and getting people excited about it. So you know now it’s probably more about the business and less about the product. I shouldn’t say it’s less about the product, but where I used to every day get rigged up in these elaborate Polo costumes, now styling is a little different for me, but my love of the business is the same.

What is your favorite part of your current job?

Working with design and our customers. It’s working with design, especially with [designer Joseph Abboud], that’s probably the most rewarding. Working with someone who has that kind of passion, it’s just contagious and it’s challenging. He’s really committed to making great product which is what I believe drives the business.

The other facet is communicating that vision to stores. So for me, every day, every presentation, I still get nervous. I feel like I’m on stage to project what the vision is for Hickey Freeman, just like an actor is taking their script and becoming that part and they have to sell that story to an audience, or an athlete is paid to hit a home run. I’m amazed – I have an event tonight at a store in Connecticut and I’m nervous about doing a good job. But I think if you weren’t nervous about the critical aspects of your job, you wouldn’t be good at it.

How do you choose what you’re going to wear in the morning?

The part I love about clothes is it’s an extension of what you feel and who you are. That’s why I’ve never been an automobile buff. I would think you would have to have 100 cars, because it’s not really an expression of how you feel if you get in the same car every day. To me, if I was fanatical about automobiles, I would want to wake up one day in an old Defender, and another day a Ferrari, but I’m kind of content with my one car that’s not particularly special in any way. I think that’s what’s really fun about it, is getting up and throwing together a look in a matter of minutes by looking at what I have. It’s almost like art.

Today I’m travelling to a store in Connecticut that’s about two and half to three hours away. So the reason for the jeans is that I don’t like to sit in dress pants too long. You know that comedian Alan King? A lot of the old performers, they wouldn’t put their suit pants on until right before they went on stage, because they wanted the crease and the profile and the silhouette to be perfect. So you had guys who the pants would be the last thing they put on. Picture somebody in their shirt, shoes tied perfectly, then they’d slip the pants over the shoes standing up. So they never sat down in them.

Before I leave [for Connecticut] I’ll put the suit pants on. So this is the shirt I’m going to wear, I have the suit there [points to a garment bag hanging by the door], I have the tie in my bag, I’m ready to go.  But to me, tonight, it’s an event, there’s going to be a lot of lobbyists there, so I’m wearing a solid navy suit. It is my Hickey Freeman Mahogany Collection navy Traveler  suit– it will crease less. When you talk about the traveler you think of typically air travel, but today most people really could benefit from that kind of suit. For you and I, it takes two hours to get to work. That’s travelling.

What does your closet look like?

Fortunately, my two girls prefer to be in the same room, so the extra bedroom became a walk-in closet which worked out perfectly. It’s basically split up by season. It’s sleeve suits and jackets hanging on the top and then pants on the bottom. All the suits are together. Then in the middle it’s all folded sweaters, jeans, khakis.

I always get my shirts folded so then there are shirts stacked sort of like in a store. I think they travel better folded. No starch. I find now for the most part I fold my suits, too when I travel. When you have a full canvas made suit and the front is full canvas, there’s no creasing at all. People are shocked, you’d think you wouldn’t put a full suit in a bag, but I find it travels just as well.

The one thing that’s really interesting to me is – my father was a pattern maker for women’s clothes – and when we think about all the clothes we wear, especially tailored clothes, a jacket has three dimensions. And it all starts from a flat piece of paper. So anything that’s well designed, it’ll go back to its original shape. It won’t go flat of course. But you can contort the suit and basically get it flat, fold it, and fold it in thirds. Just like you can do to the paper that made it. Everything starts flat.

I guess I’ve been at Hickey freeman for almost three years, so I have about 40 suits in the basement from prior lives. But I’ve become a really a collector of things. I have a lot of blazers. I love blazers. And I used to buy much more frivolous things. I think now I’m just more focused on what I want. Instead of having one blazer I have to have peak, notch, double breasted, linen ,wool, and a flannel blazer.

What’s your favorite place to shop?

I would say my favorite places to shop are in Tokyo. Most of our industry goes to Paris, London or Milan to shop, but to me Tokyo is the height of retailing in the world. If you walk into a store when it opens, it’s impeccable. The service is incredible. I love American style and it’s sad to say this but when you go to Tokyo you see stores that specialize in American heritage and vintage. You see the modern American style. Also, you see a lot of American products. They have a great appreciation for our style of dressing which I think is very easy, natural. They also have a great love of specialty shops, more so than we have here.

I would say my favorite store in New York is the original Jean Shop on west 14th street.  It’s a cool store. The jeans are great, the products are great and it’s just really true to what it is.

Where does your style inspiration come from?

Over the years I’ve been influenced by a lot of the people I’ve worked with, whether at Polo or Oxxford, and then of course here. Joseph [Abboud] has his own particular style. There are days that I dress, and I say I kind of “dressed very Joseph A today” but it’s just influenced by seeing his style and curating it and making parts of it my own.

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3 Responses to Inside Edition: Hickey Freeman President Mike Cohen

  1. I’m not that much of a internet reader to be honest but your sites really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back later. Many thanks

  2. Pingback: Hickey Freeman President Mike Cohen in Japanese Magazine Men’s Club | Hickey Freeman Blog

  3. Loretta Pereira says:

    Mike, As a former employee of Hickey Freeman Co., I do hope you continue to keep the best suit in the world manufactured in Rochester, NY. It is sad to see how it has changed from years ago. When talking to your present employees, they all seem to think “it is just not the same”. Please continue to “Keep up the Quality” their famous motto. I was there for 26 years in the Special Order office department and my husband was there for 31 years as a foreman forever trying to keep the quality up.

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