F.O.G. on Lafayette Street is literally a few steps north of the official start of SoHo (SOuth of HOuston Street) in New York. This unusual and small (775-sq.-foot/72-sq.-meter) menswear boutique opened in February 2013. Aside from its selection of mostly imported brands, it sets itself apart with a unique storage/display system constructed by New Project of Brooklyn. The system consists of black sliding doors and pullout drawers that sort of resemble Murphy beds or parts of a Japanese puzzle box. To access the dressing room for example, a sales associate must slide a large display cabinet to the left as said cabinet also serves as the changing room’s door. F.O.G.’s brand director and partner, Mark Kincaid, says that the system was built to make maximum use of space, lend an air of surprise and discovery and to force the sales associates to interact with the customers by showing them all the hidden treasures. Interview by Christopher Blomquist

What is your background?
I’ve worked in fashion for almost 20 years now. I started as an editorial stylist. My position previous to this was that I worked for Freemans Sporting Club and previous to that with Malin + Goetz.

How did F.O.G. come about?
It was never my intention to open a retail store initially. It sounds cliché but whenever I was on the floor at Freemans it always came back to the same thing when I was interacting with clients: Where do you shop outside of monobrand stores in New York? And there were no stores that kind of spoke to us or that we could relate to like Tres Bien or Loveless in Japan. I kind of felt the same way. I thought that there was a hole in the market for a store that offered brands and experiences that was kind of different from what everybody else was doing. That’s how the project started to evolve.

Where does the store’s name come from?

F.O.G. is actually an acronym for Forward Observations Group, which was a take off an old Vietnam War era unit.

What are your key brands?
We mostly focus on British, Italian and Japanese designers. So we do Bedwin and Metaphor from Japan, we do President’s from Italy and Maiden Noir from the States.

What are your bestsellers?
Definitely President’s and Maiden Noir.

Who is your typical customer?
We are very focused on creative professionals. That’s the bulk of whom we deal with.

How old are they?
I think it’s somebody in their late twenties to early fifties.

How do you attract new customers?
It’s pretty much word of mouth. It kind of circulates through the community. Both myself and my partners have been involved in the business for a long time. It’s kind of just a project for a small group of friends and it grew out from there.

Please talk about the unusual décor and all the sliding doors and drawers in the store.
The philosophy of the store was that we really wanted to build a service-based environment which I felt was lacking in retail in general. We literally only have eight feet of exposed rack and the philosophy behind that was that we knew there was an aesthetical value to what we had but I think the real charm is how things are made, where they are made and the stories behind it. I think that’s what really connected people to the individual products and brands. You really couldn’t digest that I think just casually browsing through. We designed it to almost force the client the first time they came in to engage with one of us and go from there.

How many people work here?
Just myself and two other employees.

SoHo is a shopping mecca these days. Does any of that traffic spill over to you here on Lafayette Street?
A little bit. We’re actually just left and center of SoHo and on this [north] side of Houston Street it kind of creates a little bit more of a neighborhood feel, which is nice. We’re kind of nestled into a great little block here with a café and MenScience [men’s grooming store] and the furniture store next to us so we don’t take on as much tourist traffic as normal. And we’re not really set up for it. This sounds terribly elitist–and it’s not meant to be because we welcome anybody who comes in–but we knew that we weren’t relying on street traffic to come in. It really is a very specific customer base that we cater to.

What has been your biggest challenge?
I think still exposure over anything.

What are your favorite items in the store right now?
I love a few great items from President’s. Like a pair of boardshorts that are actually based off of traditional Harris tweed fabrics but they are completely printed nylon and made in Italy. I like that classicism that is kind of a twist. I’m always obsessed with outerwear so I also love a President’s jacket with Japanese chambray taped seams and they actually made their own custom storm zip for it. I wore it in Brussels for like a week and it was perfect.

What footwear do you stock?
We have a small selection, including a brand from London called Purified. It’s their first season.

How do you discover new brands?
Honestly, all over. I think through everybody else, through the Net, through friends and just kind of being involved.

Will you have a Web presence as well?
Absolutely. We’re rolling it out this summer. So soon!

What brand in the store has surprised you the most?
I think that instead of approaching it that way the interesting thing to me is that we really do see a change in attitude in people. It used to be very brand-driven and in the industry it’s becoming more product-driven now. I think people are having less interest in the label and what’s inside and that it’s more about the quality and craft behind it. They want individual pieces.

What do you think the overall state of New York City retail is now?
I think independent retail now is starting to gain momentum here and it’s becoming very exciting with Dover Street Market coming in and few other stores like Inventory that just opened. I welcome that 100% because I think that it has been flat for a long time. I think that almost for maybe a decade now people have just kind of regurgitated was has been accessible and easy for everybody. I don’t think there have been any interesting retail concepts that have cropped up.

Store's address:
327 Lafayette Street
New York, NY 10012