A year ago, Allan Jones, owner of Hardwick Clothes, told the executive staff at the nation's oldest suit maker to perfect the navy blazer — the goes-with-anything staple of the male wardrobe — and all the other things would fall into place.
Consider the first of that mandate accomplished.
Hardwick's high-end navy blazer was announced Tuesday as the top style winner in Garden and Gun magazine's sixth annual Made in the South Awards competition.
Garden and Gun is a South Carolina-based lifestyle magazine, founded in 2007, and which seeks to highlight the best of the South.
Hardwick officials said Tuesday that being selected by the magazine for the top style prize was a surprise, but an honor, and another major step toward re-establishing Hardwick as a national leader in high-end men's clothing.
"I think it's really big for us," said Bruce Bellusci, president and CEO. "I think it's one of the most important stamps of approval, or recognition, of all the hard work the people of Hardwick have put into this product."
Jones hired Bellusci away from famed Chicago suit maker Hart Schaffner Marx and tasked him with turning around Hardwick, a company that in many ways had lost its way as a clothier. Jones bought Hardwick out of bankruptcy court in 2014 in order to save a Cleveland institution, saving 215 local jobs in the process.
He drafted a blue-chip executive team and began pouring his personal fortune into the company, ordering new, state-of-the-art equipment and hiring additional help.
Today, Hardwick employs more than 300 workers.
Bellusci said it's the work of those people, not what he or company leaders have done, that resulted in the Garden and Gun award.
"We think this is really important for us internally," he said. "It's really recognition of each person."
He also said the award offers a promising glimpse of the company's future, considering the new, revamped Hardwick line was only released this fall, and that the award-winning navy blazer was the first project company leaders set about tackling.
"We've really, really just launched it almost as a start-up this year," he said. "We're in our infancy."
Jones said despite his dogged determination and personal attachment to Hardwick's top-end navy blazer — he hand-picked the jacket's fabric and lining and had a button maker match the color of his personal Rolex Yacht-Master for the buttons — it's Bellusci's talent and team that deserve the credit.
"We're really proud," he said. "I have to credit the talent we brought to Hardwick on this."
But he said even now, Hardwick isn't out of the woods. There are still issues with production, and "we have sold more than we can produce, which is our problem," he said.
Right now, there are 250 of the top-end navy blazers available. When those are sold, a new batch won't be ready until spring.
"We've got to automate our way out of this," said Jones. "We've still got a lot of work ahead of us to save the company."
The current, limited batch of top-end Hardwick navy blazers are available through the company's website, or at local vendors Yacoubian's and Bruce Baird and Co. in Chattanooga and The Town Squire in Cleveland.
The jackets sell for $795, which is about half what they're worth, said Jones.
"It's the finest of the fine," he said. "Basically, this is a $4,000 coat. We think we're out the door for $795 with it."
The buttons are from New York City-based Tiger Button Co., and the jackets feature fine Italian fabric and custom Bemberg jacquard linings.
Hardwick's profits aren't yet where Jones would like, but the company is finally putting out the top-class products he ordered up when he purchased it.
"We've gone from mother-of-plastic to mother-of-pearl," said Jones.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.