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Definitely not uniform

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / June 12, 2008

When the Celtics take the court tonight, fans Shawn Harris and Jeff Lahens will have their eyes on something besides the jump ball: They will be checking out the suit they made for head coach Doc Rivers.

Over the past few months, Harris and Lahens, co-owners of Boston designer ECC Life & Style, have created more than 20 custom suits for Rivers, and they're hoping the well-dressed coach will give a boost to their start-up business.

After unsuccessfully targeting young men entering the workplace with affordable hand-stitched suits, ECC switched gears last year and began courting elite athletes, coaches, entertainers, and top executives. The company scored customers such as Patriots player Jarvis Green, Red Sox pitching legend Luis Tiant, and Anthony Jerome Smalls, retailer TJX's director of community relations.

So far, ECC has made its biggest impression on the Celtics, dressing up Rivers, player Scot Pollard, assistant coach Michael Longabardi, and board member James Cash Jr. The custom threads, available in more than 2,000 fabrics, cost anywhere from $750 to upward of $3,000. ECC, attempting to capitalize on the luxury market and demand for custom clothing, is planning to open its first store in Boston and expand into lifestyle apparel with big names such as Tiant and Green branding the clothing.

During a fitting that was videotaped earlier this year at Al's Tailoring in Newton, Rivers talked about the need for custom garments for his "strange body" with his "big thighs," "big butt," and "long arms." Rivers couldn't be reached for this article.

"If I'm out there, I want to look good. It's tough for me to buy off the rack. I have, and it doesn't look right," he said during the fitting. "Once you go custom, it's like going first class, you can't go back."

Rivers, who agreed to try ECC after persistent sales pitches, wore his wardrobe of new suits in the conference finals and now in the championship series, according to Harris. And the designers' determination appears to be paying off: ECC says sales and new business inquiries have increased since the playoffs started.

"The trust Doc puts in us is very important. Obviously, him being on camera, on TV, the whole world is watching him. It's priceless," said Lahens, who left his job in financial services consulting in 2004 to start ECC. "It's very important for us to perform for Doc so he can perform great out there."

ECC suits are all hand-stitched and free of glues that are typically used in mass-produced garments. Many of the suits include personal details, including names or jersey numbers stitched on shirts and jackets. Master cutters in New York and Los Angeles assemble the suits and customers go through a series of consultations with master tailors to ensure the perfect fit.

The company says it works around its clients' busy schedules, performing fittings and consultations whenever and wherever it's convenient - at their home, office, or elsewhere. From start to finish, suits are usually completed in a matter of weeks at a price that ECC says beats most comparable custom-made suits that can cost anywhere from $3,500 to upward of $5,000. (The company says it doesn't give suits away free to anyone).

ECC, which stood for "Executive Clothing Company" when the business first launched, was founded with a mission of selling $200 custom suits for men in their 20s starting their first jobs. But the partners had trouble with quality and appealing to the customer base. The growing acceptance of casual work wear has helped erode suit sales in recent years, according to Mike Tesler, president of Retail Concepts, a consulting firm in Norwell.

"And the average guy is totally unsophisticated about clothing, and he doesn't get the need for custom fit," Tesler said. "But amongst the wealthy, they clearly want to be separated. They don't want the Mercedes or BMW anymore because everyone drives them. They want custom, whether it's their cars or clothes."

After repositioning the brand last year to attract a higher-end clientele, Harris and Lahens shortened the company name to ECC to become more inclusive for its growing base of athletes and entertainers. Through word-of-mouth recommendations and intense networking, ECC has scored athletes across the country, including football players Laurent Robinson of the Atlanta Falcons, Garrett Mills of the Minnesota Vikings, and LaMarcus Hicks of the Detroit Lions.

When ECC's Harris met Patriot defensive lineman Green at a wine tasting last fall, the 6-foot-3 player had already been through three tailors. Harris, an Easton native, persuaded him to try a fourth.

Since then, ECC has designed an entire wardrobe for Green, including three jackets, 20 shirts, five pairs of pants, and two suits. On a recent Monday at Best Fit tailoring on Newbury Street, Green was trying out his latest items, including a black blazer he nicknamed the "Night Rider."

The jacket, designed after Green sent a text message to Harris saying he wanted a black coat, is made of a shiny cotton black fabric with black leather piping on the seams of the shoulder and the back of the sleeves and collar. Green's name is stitched inside the coat, which is lined with a blue paisley fabric. Starting in July, fans can get their own custom version for $550.

"It's something different. You always see the same thing in the stores," Green said. "I'm always getting lots of compliments wherever I go with the stuff ECC makes. Everyone talks about Tom Brady and his European stuff, but I'm getting there with my fashion."

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.

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