Arrow's Mike Basham: "Men in this city don't usually embrace enough of the different looks."

Categories: Fashion
All photos by Ward Rubrecht
Tucked into the trendiest part of the North Loop, spitting distance from Bachelor Farmer in a space that once housed competitor shop Martin Patrick 3, Arrow's sparsely decorated interior features a men's department as classy as its neighborhood. Highlights of the spring inventory include neon-orange knits, blue plaid sport coats, and a gorgeous pair of white buck wingtips.

"The neighborhood has really turned out for us", says co-owner Mike Basham, who shows up to the interview wearing a dark, minimalist ensemble. Arrow and nearby boutiques Askov Finlayson and Martin Patrick 3 (which moved a block and a half away), form a menswear destination for fashion-forward Minneapolitans that Basham says helps all three shops thrive.

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Though Arrow's only been open a year and change, co-owner Basham says he and his partner, Sarah Dwyer, draw from over 16 years of experience working at In Toto, a now-defunct Uptown boutique. The years have given him an instinct for clothing.

"It's such a way of life," he says with a grin. "It's what I do."

One thing Basham clears up right away is that Arrow doesn't carry men's fashion. At least, not in the way he thinks of the word.

"We carry men's clothing from fashion designers; they are sometimes trend pattern, trend cuts, trend color, and trend fabrics. But when I think of fashion, I think of runway clothes."

To illustrate, he pulls out a trade publication featuring skinny-cut floral print suits and draped silhouettes that would look decidedly out of place on Minneapolis streets.

Mike Basham
The reason Arrow doesn't carry fashion in the runway sense? Minnesota men just aren't interested. "I don't see a lot of men in this city wearing any of these outfits," he says.

Basham says there are a handful of younger guys in the Twin Cities pushing the envelope -- just not enough to justify carrying many of the truly daring looks you might see in New York City.

"[In bigger cities] there's a bigger population and more anonymity, so you can present a persona and you don't have to worry about being judged. Here, the men don't want to take risks as much," he says regretfully.

As an example, he recalls a time when In Toto was carrying a Phillip Lim blouse in the women's department, and he considered bringing in the equivalent male piece.

"It'd be almost the same piece: a men's silk blouse and a women's silk blouse," Basham says. "The detailing was almost identical. And there just aren't a lot of guys that I know that would wear that in this city and pay full price for it."

Instead, according to Basham, most Minneapolis men who pay attention to clothing follow in lockstep with the national heritage movement, a look that started to get popular around five years ago. Heritage fashion incorporates clothing with which most Midwesterners are intimately familiar: work boots, high-quality denim, and flannel shirts from American brands.

"How hard is it for a guy to go from just wearing Red Wing boots to wearing Red Wing boots as a fashion trend?" he says. "It's already done! There's just so many ways to dress, and men in this city don't usually embrace enough of the different looks."

Basham goes on to ring the death knell for the heritage movement. "It'll be great when people realize that trend is over," he says. "It's peaked, and it's already on the decline. Boys in Brooklyn have shaved their beards. They've done it for five years and now. It's over."

Rather than follow that strong trend in Minneapolis menswear, Basham says Arrow has charted its own course. "I'm not a follower", he says. "We have clothing for men that falls within that category, like selvedge denim, but it's definitely not something that I buy for."

Instead, Arrow focuses on lines with small American distributions from high-end designers, such as Melinda Gloss, Officine Generale, and, coming soon, President. "We want to bring in lines that are unique and not widely distributed."

When asked what he sees coming down the men's fashion pike, Basham cites a piece of clothing that would make most Minnesotans today roll their eyes: drop-crotch pants, a style featuring severe tapering of the calves and a crotch cut to fall low -- sometimes as low as the knee.

"It'll start with a sweatpants-style alternative. There are some clubbers wearing it right now, I'm sure," he says. "Because Justin Bieber is wearing them, they're coming."

So will Arrow be stocking droopy pantaloons anytime soon?

Basham shakes his head. "I don't feel the men in Minneapolis would support it right now," he says.

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