He's stylish down to his soles And James Glenn brings passion to the sale of luxury shoes, a belief in the power of "great accessories."

Posted: June 10, 2007

For his high-end work as a buyer at upscale boutiques Eleganza in Atlantic City and Matthew Izzo in Philadelphia, James Glenn frequently dons one of his $1,100 Dolce & Gabbana suits and slips into a $495 pair of Cesar Paciotti shoes. Then he takes - the bus.

"Here I am wearing about $4,000 worth of clothes while riding a $40 551 Atlantic City Express," says Glenn. "But to me, it's just like a limo."

For Glenn, 48, a mainstay of Philly's tony retail scene since the '80s, the world is a place where if you look bold and unique, you can ride a bus and still be fabulous.

While Glenn roots his style in all types of men's clothing, he's focused his passion on the one item that always fits, no matter how big or small your waist may get: shoes.

A veteran of the Center City shoe salon Stiletto, Glenn plans to open his own eponymous boutique near Rittenhouse Square in the fall. There he'll sell things that you don't need - only things that you want.

Like red patent-leather boots from Italian designer Giuseppe Agostini. Acne Jeans' full shoe line from Stockholm. Ralph Lauren Purple label meets rock-and-roll bling - that's the look Glenn loves the most.

"Great accessories change the mood of your clothes - all clothes," says Glenn. "I live, breathe and believe that."

Part of Glenn's success, those in the industry say, is that he knows not only how to buy unique shoes, he can rely on his vast knowledge of luxury footwear to sell them.

"He knows what you want before you do," says Sam Brandaux, the interior designer currently drawing up plans for Glenn's salon at 17th and Delancey.

He has a dedication as salesman and buyer that's rare, even in the business of fine clothing.

That intensity was evident on a sunny Mother's Day as Glenn worked his shoe concession on the second floor of Matthew Izzo's 13th Street boutique. He joked with customers, pushing them to try on Nudie Jeans and Filippa K shirts and Giuseppe Agostini shoes - for what seemed like hours.

David Vilardo, a Philadelphia engineer, was simply looking to buy a wristband when he walked into Izzo. He walked out with a $500 Trovata violet blazer sold to him by Glenn.

"I'm not flamboyant, so the color choice was different for me," observes Vilardo, 38, who says that Glenn made him feel emotionally attached to the outfit. "After an hour of such special attention I almost felt obligated to buy something. It's a very rock-and-roll piece he sold me. And he did sell me. He's very effective at getting people involved."

That's probably because Glenn sees himself not only as a procurer of fine men's shoes, but as a fashion consultant who collaborates extensively with his customer.

"We together create what is good for you," he says. "When it comes to fashion, I want you to be not so far out of the box nor inside the box. I want you on top of the box."

Glenn operates his shoe concession at Matthew Izzo on his own dime, and tailors his selections for that boutique's trendy off-kilter items. To match the esoteric brands such as Black Hearts Brigade shirts and Cheap Monday jeans, Glenn brings less-mass-marketed shoes such as Giuseppe Agostini and sneakers from the new Common Projects brand.

"Jimmy's buying things to complement our clothes," says Michael Anderer, buyer and director of sales for Izzo's stores. "[He] understands our product because he tries everything on. He understands the fit so he can tell you how it all feels."

Glenn has always prided himself on being a sharp dresser.

Handsome and bald, with a deep velvety voice, Glenn - a Pleasantville, N.J., native - learned his love of and attention to clothing from his parents. His mother, a schoolteacher, and his father, a chef, made presentation important; dressing up for services at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church was a must.

In 1980, Glenn graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta with a degree in fashion merchandising. He then worked throughout the Atlantic City area, honing his fashion sense by working at Casino Male, for a guy named Casino Dave.

"We sold $129 suits with a free tie and two pairs of shoes for $40," remembers Glenn. "Did we grow up a little bit in the world since then?!"

Glenn's career through upscale clothing stores and salons included stints at Andrew Gellar's women's shoe salon, Camillion's men store in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, and Distante fine men's clothing on Locust Street.

Joseph Carrasquillo, who used to run Camillion, says that Glenn showed promise from the beginning. "Good attitude - and not attitude - is what makes you in this biz. Jimmy's got a beautiful one," says Carrasquillo, a buyer at Eleganza. "I recognized that when I hired him."

But the salesman and manager didn't become a buyer until he wound up at Stiletto in 2001. There, Glenn learned not only the true importance of shoes but how to buy them for the Philadelphia market.

"Stiletto was all about sexy shoes - sexy men, sexy women," says Glenn, who worked there as a men's shoe buyer until 2006. "Sue Golden [Stiletto owner] opened up her door and her budget to me."

When Golden took Glenn to Milan, Italy, to see the showrooms of Roberto Cavalli, Giuseppe Zanotti and such, Glenn began to understand the power of accessories - and what will tempt a frugal Philadelphian to open his wallet. To succeed here, Glenn realized he had to find shoes that are worth spending money on and offer something that no one has - a look, a stitch, a shape, an experience.

"I'm trying to make my buying as strategic as possible . . . and still make a dollar," he says.

Golden would not comment on Glenn for this article. Glenn would also not comment on why he left; the store has recently stopped selling men's shoes.

Glenn currently hones his buying skills at Eleganza at The Pier Shops at Caesars, where his stock in trade is pricey Cesar Paciotti shoes that complement the boutique's Versace suits and shirts.

"It's a perfect fit," says Gino Iovino, Eleganza's co-owner. "Paciotti designed for Versace for many years. It's as if Jimmy's selling the history of men's fashion."

That sounds lofty for Glenn's regular clientele, which he describes as just folks with a passion for fashion ("Bob and Mary, Jack and Sue," he says). A certain freedom with the wallet is necessary, however; while some of his shoes sell for $125 and his Common Sneakers line retails for $225 and up, Glenn has a Gianni Barbato boot coming in that will retail for $1,500.

"And it's not a skin," says Glenn. "I already have the customers who want it."

In Glenn's estimation, there aren't a lot of places in Philadelphia that allow a man to develop his personal style tastefully. That's why he wants his store to be a "total haberdashery," where a simple white T and jeans can be made to look different every day with the right accessories and shoes.

"I want you to have something that's not a slave to cookie-cutter fashion," Glenn says. "I want to sell something that has character."

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