From a quaint lil’ Adams Morgan basement to a classic two-story Georgetown shop, two-and-a-half times the original, DC’s Marshall Thompson has single-handedly transformed fashion in the District by opening the Nation’s first all-British-brand store for men. I’m serious. But don’t expect to find silly little pieces that are only good for costume parties. The District Line (an awesome nod to both our fair city and one of London’s tube routes) delivers exactly what were are looking for in DC, some seriously awesome clothing that we can wear to work and to play that isn’t Brooks Brothers, J.Crew, H&M or any of those too-ubiquitous bland-brands.
BYT’s El Chico Cesar (an Anglophile of the utmost vocal authority) sat down over a few pints in a Georgetown bar with the self-proclaimed “normal guy” to show us exactly why Marshall Thompson is DC’s answer to mandals and pleated khakis. We’d say he’s supranormal!
(plus, we, of course went to the opening party, mingled with everyone from DC United, to Wonkette to The Post to Politico‘s staff to Project Beltway to every other sharply dressed person in DC, and Joel took some amazing photos to go along with the story. Now, go and shop)
BYT: Marshall, I see from your biz card you are no longer a proprietor, you’re president of The District Line now. Ooooh, ahhh.
MT: Oh yeah, man, this is big time!
BYT: When did you decide you wanted to open The District Line? What is your connection to British fashion?
MT: I’ve liked the clothing, especially Fred Perry and Ben Sherman, since I was 16. I got into it through music because a lot of my favorite bands wore it, like The Specials and Madness and The Clash. Also, the Mods and that kind of style. So I’ve always liked it. And in 2004 I was walking around this city and I noticed that a lot of people wore that kind of stuff but you couldn’t buy it anywhere. So it was just an observation. Kind of weird that you see Fred Perry everywhere in DC but you can’t buy Fred Perry anywhere in DC. And then I was Phenom Phen, Cambodia, sitting in my hotel room, watching a Chelsea Football match and I don’t know what happened and something just clicked in my head and I was like, that would be a really cool idea, and I just started typing in my laptop a really rough rough rough outline of a business plan. And eight months later…I’m a little overly ambitious.
BYT: Had you lived in the UK before?
MT: Yeah, I lived there for 6 months after I graduated. Earl’s Court actually. Well, that’s why Chelsea’s my team too.
BYT: And did you go to school in DC, is that why you are here?
MT: Yeah, I went to American and graduated in 2003.
BYT: So two years is a ridiculously short amount of time for any store (that isn’t a major chain) to move from a small outfit to something that is 2.5 times bigger. After two years, you’re just getting used to the idea of of how your store runs. At what point did you start thinking about Georgetown and why?
MT: Well, I learned that my location wasn’t really that great in Adams Morgan. Because as soon as people got in they really liked it but it took so much to get people into the store. I mean, it’s hard to see it. And it took about a year before I decided that maybe this wasn’t the right place. People like it but they can’t find it. So I looked along 14th Street and U street and decided that Georgetown had guaranteed foot traffic every single day of the week, year-round, even in July and August which might be dead cause schools out, but that’s when all the tourists come to town and they go to Georgetown.
BYT: Are there other stores in DC that are carrying these brands? I mean I know we can probably find Fred Perry or Ben Sherman, but other than that, nothing.
MT: Actually, you won’t find this anywhere in the whole of the United States!
MT: Yeah, there is one other store in Venice Beach that is doing the all-Brit label thing but the woman who owns it sells both men and women’s clothing. And her merchandise is more high-fashion. I’m the only men’s British-only clothing store in the US.
BYT: Yowzah! So, how does casual British menswear differ from American?
MT: I think some of it has to do with attitude, where a lot of this stuff is tied into other aspects of culture. A lot of bands will wear these styles. Fred Perry and Ben Sherman go back about 40 years and really great British bands have always worn this kind of stuff. We don’t really have American labels really tied to the Rock ‘n’ Roll look. I guess now we have Hip Hop with Rocawear and stuff but that’s the closest thing to this idea of original music and fashion.
BYT: Other than Steve Tyler-brand spandex.
BYT: Sold at WalMart. I’m just kidding. Which would be pretty awesome actually. What are some of the labels you carry? What can we find at the District Line?
MT: Right now we’ve nine labels for the Fall. Fred Perry, Ben Sherman, Merc London, Ted Baker, Oliver Spencer, Etienne Ozeki, Simon Carter, Fenchurch, Boxfresh and Simon Carter.
BYT: Sweet! And that includes everything from men’s underwear to what?
MT: No, no underwear. But denim, t-shirts, sweaters, jackets, hoodies, suits, ties, cufflinks, watches, bags, accessories.
BYT: So if was like, oh, I’m gonna wear Brit labels all week and I’ve got a dinner with Mom and Dad at the Embassy and then I have to meet some friends at the Black Cat and also I have like a casual business lunch and the I’m going to a show at 9:30 Club. Would I be able to find everything at The District Line?
MT: Yeah, yeah, everything man. Only thing we don’t do is shoes.
BYT: What are your favorites?
MT: Personally, I’m a fan of the suits.
BYT: Oh yeah, I saw some awesome Ted Bakers last night. If you had to pick one thing from your store that every guy in DC must have, what would it be?
MT: That would be horrible if everybody had the same thing.
BYT: Good answer.
MT: But I think everybody should at least be able to have one nice pair of jeans. You can wear them out, and if they’re the right style, they won’t be too trendy, timeless. I also think another thing is good outerwear pieces. For the same kind of reasons. A really nice outerwear piece you can dress up and dress down, they’ll last you forever and they won’t go out of style.
BYT: At 6’2” [achem] for someone like myself it’s hard to find European brand clothing, because of the cuts, that doesn’t make me look like a fat guy in a little coat. But you’re pretty tall, right?
MT: Yeah, I’m 6’5″ and I can get away with a lot of stuff from my store. This stuff isn’t so much “European-cut” as it is casual. Every label is a little different. There is no one British cut. And even with like, Ben Sherman, they have different cut shirts. The have different style shirts. Boxfresh is streetwear so it’s a little looser. Merc is more mod, 60’s-style so their cuts are tighter, smaller. So you just have to try different things. There’s a lot of variation in the store.
BYT: You hosted a number of parties at the Adams Morgan location, sort of setting the precedent for this idea that The District Line was more than just clothes but a party or a reflection of what’s going on socially, culturally in DC. Can we expect more of this in Georgetown?
MT: Evenmoreso, actually! Yeah, I bought turntables permanently, so i’ll be able to incorporate djs every single week. We’re also continuing our relationship with DC United. The MLS Cup is coming to DC this year and the final is in November and we’re teaming up with some merchandisers and we’re going to have pro soccer players at our store. We’re even making some District Line soccer scarves.
BYT: Yeah, I saw those last night. I’m definitely snagging one. Are you going to celebrate British holidays at The District Line?
MT: The only one I ever tried was Guy Fawkes Day but nobody knew who he was. Remember, remember the 5th of November!
BYT: Yeah, I remember, remember. Who designed the store and layout? What I saw when I came in was pretty impressive.
MT: I met the designer at Bliss Dance Night (Brian Miller) at the Black Cat and he was friends with Will Eastman with whom I also quickly became friends. When I told him I was moving to Georgetown and he looked at the space, he approved of it and then we started talking about ideas.
BYT: Describe the look of your store cause I think the concept’s pretty cool.
MT: Yeah, basically The District Line store is an an old English Manor home that’s been passed down to a younger guy who redesigns it with his own artistic touches.
BYT: You’re also featuring the work of a great local artist in the deisgn of the store.
MT: Yeah, Kelly Towles. He will be adding some nice touches to the likenesses of Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill. You’ll see what I mean when you come to the opening.
(painting by Kelly Towles)
BYT: So where do you see The District Line five years from now?
MT: Honestly, I always kinda thought The District Line would be bigger than one store. Because it’s a concept, it’s a lifestyle store, it’s not a trend store. I try to pick more timeless and classic pieces. I’m a normal guy, I don’t follow trends or go wild with fashion. And I think I’ve picked stuff that every guy can wear but is still unique and different. And I think there’s a market for it. So we’re looking at Philly next.
BYT: I think there’s a great need for it in DC. As a guy who likes clothes it’s hard to find something in DC that isn’t that faddy stuff from some stores or the businessy stuff from others.
MT: And I think this will transfer well to other cities.
BYT: Sweet. Now, I’m gonna give you a list of a pair of names and you just pick one and tell me why. Really quick. Lightning fast. Ready?
BYT: Tony Blair or Gordon Brown?
MT: Tony Blair. He was there when I was living in London. He was sort of a lapdog but he seems like a pretty good guy overall.
BYT: Helen Mirren or Judy Dench?
MT: Helen Mirren is a babe! Did you see her at the Oscars?
BYT: Yes, I did. She’s the ultimate GILF at 138 years old. Amy Winhouse or Lady Sovereign?
MT: Amy Winehouse. I think she’s way more talented.
BYT: Diana or Camilla? JUST KIDDING! Sweetbreads or Haggis?
MT: I’ve never had either.
MT: I know. Haggis is Scottish though.
BYT: Dude, I know that.
MT: I’d like to try it.
BYT: I have some at home if you’d like. In a can. Ok, Ireland or Scotland?
MT: Scotland. But my mom would kill me for saying that. Thompson is a Scottish clan. But my mother’s grandfather is from Belfast.
BYT: Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling?
MT: Shakespeare. I’ve never read one Harry Potter book.
BYT: Neither have I! I bet J.K. Rowling will be what Shakespeare was 100 years from now. [Then we start laughing]. Um, English Breakfast Tea or Earl Grey?
MT: PG Tips!
[Then we’re laughing our asses off]. [Note: PG Tips is a sordid tea. Not the best in Britain. Possibly one of the worst actually.]
BYT: Radiohead or Coldplay?
BYT: Of course. Now for some I [heart] the UK trivia. Do you know what spotted dick is?
MT: I know it comes in a can. It’s a dessert.
BYT: Yes, it’s delicious and it’s a bread pudding and you can put it in your mouth. Do you know what a pikey is?
MT: Yeah, they’re the equivalent of gypsies, kinda. They travel in caravans.
MT: I learned that from Snatch! [Note: Thompson is referring to the movie not the, well, uh…]
BYT: Meh, I’ll take that. But I thought they were the equivalent of Americanus Trailerus Trashejorus. What is Scotland Yard?
[Then Thompson looks at me like I’ve asked him if he has a butthole]
MT: That’s where the Metropolitan Police are. And there’s NEW Scotland Yard. Come on, man!
BYT: Ooh, very good, very good. But you know, not everybody knows Scotland Yard. In your opinion who was Henry VII’s hottest wife?
MT: Hapsburg was the fat ugly one, wasn’t she.
MT: And the youngest one was Anne Boleyn. So she must’ve been the hot one, right?
BYT: Yeah, I would have to agree. Name three historical rulers of the UK. One has to be a Prime Minster, the other King and the final, a Queen. That isn’t Henry VIII, Tony Blair, or the Elizabeths.
MT: Queen Victoria. Winston Churchill—
BYT: Of course.
MT: And then the other one…Chamberlain. Neville Chamberlain! The PM before Churchill. Like the DJ. DJ Neville Chamberlain. And also William the Conqueror.
BYT: Damn, that’s good. What’s your premiere [soccer] league?
MT: Chelsea of course! I visited my sister in London in 1998. We visited for week and I saw everybody had football scarves and I thought it was the coolest thing ever and when I asked my sister what the closest team was she said Chelsea. So I’m a Chelsea fan. And then I ended living in Earl’s Court which is 15 minutes from Stanford Bridge.
BYT: Are you excited about Beckham in the U.S.?
MT: Yes, it’s a great thing for the whole game. he’s generated so much love for the game…for all the teams involved, that hopefully he’ll convert the sports fan who may not be a regular soccer spectator. Suddenly, a lot of other European players have decided they should go for American teams. He plays soccer well, he’s good for the game.
BYT: What’s the UK drinking age?
MT: 18. But does it matter?
BYT: Do you know the Celsius to Farenheit conversion of 33 degrees?
BYT: A ballpark.
MT: 70 degrees?
BYT: Ooooh, close, 77 actually.
[El Chico Cesar’s recorder dies and they continue talking about random shizzle.]
There you have it folks, a short back-and-forth between BYT’s El Chico Cesar and the young President of DC’s hottest new store for men. We say Thank God for The District Line in DC! Stop in starting NOW to check out the goods for yourself! Cheers mate!
The District Line
Modern English Fashion for Men
Marshall Thompson, President
1250 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20007