photos by Nick Urteaga
Twenty-five-year-old attorney and entrepreneur Solomon Brown is at a local coffee shop. He sits with his hands folded on the table in front of him. His suit is tailored, his shoes are leather, his suspenders are black. He wears an Oxford shirt tailored and sewn to his measurements. He pauses in our discussion to add up the cost of a tailored shirt versus off-the-rack.
“So, you can buy a shirt for $150 and replace the cuffs and collar two or three times,” he says. “You have a quality shirt that lasts, and you’ll pay less than you would over time for shirts off the rack.”
Brown has an undergraduate degree from Washington University and a JD from the NYU School of Law. But today he is talking to me about community, tradition, and craftsmanship. The latter is how we got on the topic of tailored shirts. His suit jacket is left in the car (a black BMW), and his suspenders are an anomaly among the shorts and T-shirts of the pre-dinner crowd in the mellow din of the coffee shop. If the digital age is about speed, quantity, and ephemera, Brown focuses on quality, durability, and ageless style. Making something that lasts matters to him.
Aside from his legal work, Brown designs and sells high-end leather goods via his label, Solomon Chancellor. His pieces range from a leather notebook for $17 to a weekender duffel bag for $895. If you visit his website, you’ll find a minimalist design with brief descriptions of his current product offering. You will also find his products in the hands of models and in the trunk of a white Porsche 911. I want to know: Whose Porsche is in the photo? Who are the models? When I ask, he laughs. “I don’t know whose Porsche it is, but I’ll tell you how all that happened.”
To Brown, the photoshoot was the result of luck, but the story he tells is one of initiative — what is often called “making your own luck.”
“I was walking through a men’s store in Houston, and the salesperson approached me and complimented one of the bags I was carrying in to show [in hopes the shop might sell the pieces]. He invited me to a fashion shoot because he wanted some of my bags in the photos. I get to the shoot on this rooftop and there are three 911s. So, I was able to take all these shots with models in them from all these different angles, and I didn’t have to pay any money for the models or the cars.”
Each piece in Brown’s collection is named after a figure from the U Street corridor in Washington, D.C. When D.C. was still segregated, U Street was part of an upscale neighborhood where Brown’s grandfather owned and operated a nightclub and two restaurants. Luminaries like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald would frequent his grandfather’s restaurants. And Solomon traces his own entrepreneurial spirit back to his grandfather’s success and the U Street community.
But the similarities do not end with a shared business acumen. If you see Solomon around Jefferson City, he is usually impeccably dressed, often in suspenders and tailored shirts with cutaway collars. This too is part of his grandfather’s legacy. A successful business man, Solomon’s grandfather, affectionately called “Pop Brown” by those who knew him, was also a man who believed in sartorial elegance and simplicity.
“My grandfather had a certain code about the way he dressed,” Brown explains. “So much so that when he passed away, the Washington Post obituary said ‘Mr. Brown was never caught outside without a hat, a necktie, and a jacket.’ I never met my grandfather, but my father said that was how we was, so I developed this love of that kind of style. So, I’m 25 years old and have on suspenders.”
If you talk to Solomon for any length of time, it becomes clear that he cares about details. Whether he’s talking about cars, law, or fashion, he is interested in things that are made well, conscientiously. When he finds something he likes, he wants it be something that lasts.
He began to design his own products when a product he loved, a tie, came apart in an encounter with Velcro on an Amtrak from New York to Washington D.C.
“I sat on a seat that had Velcro exposed. I had on an open-weave tie, and the fabric stuck to the Velcro. When I pulled back, all the threads came out of my favorite tie.”
Living in New York and attending law school at the time, Brown located the company that sold the tie in New York. When he arrived, he discovered that he had in fact found the manufacturer. They still had the fabric and agreed to make him a new tie. After designing the new tie, Solomon purchased more than 20 of them, created a label for them, and began to sell them to law school classmates.
He then made the move to leather goods. When he wanted a new notebook for class, he found an East Village leather maker to work with him as he drew up the design for a leather case to fit a Moleskine notebook. When his friends saw the case, they wanted one, so he knew he had a product people wanted. He followed his notebook case with a duffel bag.
“It was made out of not-the-world’s-greatest leather, and it wasn’t stitched the best, but people liked it too. So, finally, I said I have to find somebody who can make this and who can make it right.”
He invested money to have his designs made with craftsman quality. Since then, he has continued to develop new products and has sold items to people and corporations throughout the world in countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, France, Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, and the United States.
While the Solomon Chancellor brand is built around Pop Brown’s style, it is also built around his ethic. All of the products are American-made. “My grandfather believed you were doing a disservice as a business owner if you weren’t hiring the people around you. If you aren’t hiring the people around you, what good are you, right?”
With this ethic and spirit, Brown hopes to continue to expand his product line, creating quality leather products that last for generations.