The luxury menswear designer behind the Goat vs Wolf brand operates out of a Virginia garage

If you want to know what it takes to sell some of the best T-shirts in America, you better start by working your way through Mauro Farinelli’s garage in Alexandria, Virginia. When I visited in mid-August, the single-car hall in a quiet cul-de-sac was filled with dozens of boxes, fresh from Italy. On the outskirts, you could see the outward signs of suburban life: a charcoal firelighter, the handle of a snow shovel, a bag of dog food. In context, the boxes might have meant nothing more than preparations for a garage sale at the end of the summer. Studying these containers, many of which are collapsing from the pains of transit, you would never guess that the hundreds of shirts inside would sell out within minutes of being advertised online.

Farinelli, 51, is the owner and until recently the sole employee of Wolf vs Goat, a small cult menswear brand he has, for much of the past decade, run out of his home. him. A longtime resident of the DC area, he worked in fashion retail for years, operating women’s clothing stores in the area, only to see them falter during the Great Recession. Trying to figure out what was next, he began designing button-up shirts, which he first made in American and then European factories. Along the way, he branched out into other garments, especially knitwear. Although he regularly travels abroad to meet factory owners and attend fabric shows, much of his work takes place in a small office in the basement of his home, where he lives with his wife, daughter and their three exuberant rescue dogs.

Today, the Wolf vs. Goat business model works like this: Customers — who primarily find the brand through Reddit and menswear blogs — pay $25 to join the company’s “rewards program,” after which all offers are half off forever. On his website, you might find linen and cotton pants with the texture of an unbroken brie crust ($107.50 for members) or a long-sleeved wool and silk polo shirt ($200 for members) that will make you feel like a Bond villain lying by the pool.

Wolf vs Goat markets itself as a luxury brand, and the quality of the clothing is undeniably high. “I think it’s a brand that’s actually quite forward-thinking and modern in its approach to heritage and sustainability in fashion,” told me journalist Dana Thomas, host of “The Green Dream,” a sustainability podcast. But What, exactly, makes a brand feel luxurious when it avoids photo shoots and elaborate fashion shows? When it operates in suburban barely fashionable Northern Virginia? When its founder announces new products in humorous posts on Reddit, one of which found him comparing the thickness of a tissue to part of a whale’s anatomy? When he occasionally speaks directly to frustrated customers in the comments of these posts? When he welcomes you to his home to admire the boxes in his garage?

Not knowing how to answer these questions, I asked Farinelli to join me on a window-shopping trip through CityCenterDC, a maze of ultra-expensive downtown boutiques: Gucci, Akris, Hermès and more. . It was a scorching Friday afternoon, so I pulled on a pair of Wolf vs Goat linen shorts and a Wolf vs Goat zip-up polo shirt in an airy honeycomb weave – possibly my favorite piece of clothing that I’ve have never owned. Weeks before, Farinelli had told me on the phone, “People who normally buy my clothes are nerds,” meaning they were eager to learn more about fabrics and construction. Even by those standards, showing up to meet him in clothes he designed seemed a bit fanboyish, like wearing the band’s T-shirt you’re about to see. But to my surprise, Farinelli was wearing the same outfit, except his polo shirt was light gray while mine was a color he calls mocha. Going from store to store, we sure didn’t look so much like uniformed missionaries from some absurdly well-funded church. In a way, I guess we were.

At the Paul Stuart store, which sells $2,000 sports jackets and $400 pants, I watched Farinelli inspect and then dismissively push back casual shorts, apparently because he was unimpressed with the inseams. After I pointed to a sweater jacket that I would consider wearing, he considered the lapels for a moment, then looked at the tag: $965. “Not at that price,” he told me.

When the quality of clothing in Wolf vs. Goat fails to meet Farinelli’s expectations, he tends to criticize them with equal fervor. He recently had frustrations with a Portuguese factory he was using, and he has since moved that production to Italy, where he has closer relationships with manufacturers and therefore tighter quality control.

Wolf vs Goat’s own missteps tend to come down to operational issues. Once, long before I started reporting this item, he sent me the wrong pants. When I pointed out the error, he promptly sent me the correct pair and told me to keep the other “for the inconvenience”, refusing my offer to return, or at least pay for, the first pair. Other clients describe similar experiences of transparency and generosity. In recent months, Farinelli has hired business partners and a few employees, and started working with a third-party logistics company for shipping, though he still personally pacifies grumpy shoppers.

With his gregarious accessibility, Farinelli sometimes looks more like an enthusiastic salesman than a fashion designer. In the Loro Piana store in CityCenterDC – where, like elsewhere, we didn’t identify ourselves and said we were just looking — he joked affably with the attentive employee about the micron count of a sweater and the advantages of 2-ply cashmere. As the clerk stood nearby, we stopped to study an intimidatingly beautiful cable-knit sweater for $5,050. “It’s a ridiculous amount of money to buy a sweater,” he told me. Still, he couldn’t help admiring her. “It’s so thick. The thread is so well twisted. It’s a legacy.

None of us were in any danger of buying anything from Loro Piana or the other stores we visited that afternoon. But when something impressed Farinelli, it was apparently because he could see how well made it was, how flat the seams or how well stocked the fabrics. In that was another kind of luxury, the one that comes from understanding why the garment you wear is special – which is perhaps what Wolf vs Goat is all about. Farinelli will never have a store like the Brunello Cucinelli store we visited, where neatly frosted cupcakes sat under a glass cloche. They’re not clothes that advertise your wealth, at least not as directly as, say, a pair of Gucci rubber slides, but they still allow you to tell a story about yourself, which is the real function. of all luxury clothes.

Here’s my last story about him, then. We had just left the Brioni boutique, where the knowledgeable cashier had pointed out a particularly pretty cashmere cardigan with a cream yarn, both in color and in texture. It cost nearly $2,000 and looked like something I would spill coffee on immediately.

“I almost gave that sweater a double look,” Farinelli told me after the door closed behind us. “I’m making a similar one.”

“How much are you going to charge? ” I asked.

“It’ll cost about three hundred and fifty dollars, maybe.” With the price of awards, ”he replied. And before I could say another enthusiastic word, he was talking about wool again.

Jacob Brogan is associate editor of Book World at the Washington Post.

Luz W. German