By Elizabeth Wellington
The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — Malcolm Jenkins’ suits are anything but run-of-the-mill.
Let’s start with my favorite from Jenkins’ Damari Savile spring collection, the Kater: Its soft lavender hue is an unexpected summer breeze in the gray space that is traditional men’s suiting. It features a shawl collar, too. No, it’s not a tuxedo, but it boasts the sharpness that is as groom-appropriate as it is brunch fly, thanks to slimming, slanted pockets and a one-button blazer.
When Jenkins styles the Kater himself, he pulls it all together with white sneakers — Common Projects, to be exact — so the entire ensemble speaks to the modern man.
“What we want to do is create an experience,” Jenkins told me. “We are out to change the idea of who belongs in a suit, what the personality of a suit is and to show men they can make their suit whatever they want it to be.”
I get it. But why lilac?
“I saw Jay-Z in a powder-blue suit,” Jenkins said. “And at that moment, I decided I needed to make a light suit.”
Jenkins has been on his fashion grind all summer. He’s spent this year’s off months overhauling the Damari Savile brand, after splitting with original cofounder Jay Amin. He added a laser focus to the company’s suit design and incorporated black art, pop culture and historical references to make sure everything about Damari Savile lives up to its tagline: Culture First.
The result: The 31-year-old Philadelphia Eagles safety has been more visible with his brand. Like Rihanna, who sits at the helm of Fenty, he has the perfect physique to hawk his brand and, also like Rihanna, he’s disrupting menswear in the Instagram-way, dropping new pieces on fans when the mood is right, not when the fashion calendar dictates. He designed a lightweight flannel wool blazer with a shawl lapel that ties like a robe. He shot the promotional materials at Northern Liberties’ Vesper Dayclub and posted it to the Damari Savile Instagram account in July.
“We are trying to push the envelope and redefine men’s suiting,” Jenkins said. “We are taking something very traditional and very conservative and pushing the limits a little further with a fresh combination of cuts and textures.”
After Jenkins split with Amin, Jenkins brought in his Omega Psi Phi frat brother Eric White as a co-owner. White is the celebrity stylist responsible for the youthful, tailored looks of Sixer Tobias Harris and Harris’ NBA bestie Boban Marjanovic. He also styles the Philadelphia-born Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, who both play in the NBA.
With the help of lead designer Alyssa DiMarcantonio, Jenkins started creating capsule collections on a made-to-order basis. Made-to-measure suits remain the core of the Damari Savile brand — especially for grooms. But by actually making the suits Jenkins wears available to his customers, Jenkins is hoping to expand the Damari Savile brand by making the Jenkins’ aesthetic accessible to his fashion fans. Damari Savile suits start at $999.
Jenkins’ summer collection is called Sankofa, which means “go back and get it” in Twi, a dialect spoken in Ghana, and is fashioned from fabrics Jenkins sourced while on a trip there. He showed off two suits from the three-piece collection this summer at the ESPYs and an event that feted Sports Illustrated’s Fashionable 50 issue. (Harris was also spotted at this year’s ESPYs in a Damari Savile suit.)
DiMarcantonio also expanded Damari Savile’s made-to-measure program to include women’s suiting. And, Jenkins said Damari Savile will drop its fall capsule collection in the coming weeks. The focus, Jenkins said, is on African American art.
“(Black) history isn’t a part of our schools and textbooks,” Jenkins said. “It’s an oral history. It’s in our music and art. So (with my next collection) I wanted to do something that is a nod to black art, history, and tradition.”
That intention is set in Damari Savile’s 3,000-square-foot Philadelphia studio/retail space. Hanging throughout the store are reimagined Jet magazine covers featuring Spike Lee, Lauryn Hill, and Janelle Monae courtesy of Philadelphia-based artist Shaheed Rucker. In the center of the store is Damari Savile’s new crest. It features Jenkins’ No. 27 in Roman numerals, the Sankofa symbol, two sewing needles, and a black hand shaking a white one _ one more way of expressing the importance of black history in American fashion.
“Custom suiting companies are always trying to be British or Italian,” DiMarcantonio said. “We are a first-generation American suiting brand fashioned in Malcolm’s image and styling. This is what ‘culture first’ means to us.”
Jenkins, who is outspoken when it comes to civil rights and is known for his community-based philanthropy projects in Philadelphia neighborhoods, grew up in Piscataway, N.J., and attended Ohio State. He launched Rock Avenue Bow Ties while playing for the New Orleans Saints. He brought his bow-tie business with him when he became an Eagle in 2014.
In December 2016, Jenkins met former partner Amin outside of the now-shuttered nightclub Rumor. The two connected and launched Damari Savile –Damari is Jenkins’ middle name and Savile was his nod to the London’s Savile Row. The store opened in May 2017, right in time for the NFL draft.
The fashion community was excited to have Jenkins as the face of a homegrown brand that would undoubtedly have celebrity cache. But there were whispers of poor fit – everything was too tight– and shoddy customer service. Then in November 2018, Amin was charged with driving under the influence and attempting to flee an officer in Hatfield Township, Montgomery County. By early 2019, Amin was no longer affiliated with Damari Savile.
Is he still an owner? I asked Jenkins. No, he replied. “We are working (it all) out to see what it will look like,” Jenkins said.
Amin, who was not available for comment, started his own brand in New York, according to his Instagram. He’s calling it Amin Standard.
In the two years since Damari Savile has launched, Jenkins says his style has evolved. Gone are the bow ties and collared shirts. “I really like Mao (rounded collars) I don’t think I’ve worn a tie in a year,” he said laughing.
The cool thing is these suits span the levels from board room meeting serious to night on the town fun. In this staid world of men’s fashion, that’s the most exciting news.