Houston may be the fourth largest city in the country, but until a couple weeks ago, it was basically a sartorial wasteland on the menswear front. “A lot of people were like, are you guys nuts?” says Sacha Nelson Chapel about the decision to open Mortar, a forward-thinking men’s boutique, with his girlfriend, Iris Siff, during what may or may not be the end of the recession. For him, however, the decision was pretty straightforward: Build it and they will come. “You have to go to the mall just to go to the Barneys Co-Op,” jokes Siff, a veteran of the local women’s retail scene. “So we wanted to do this from a perspective that was relevant for Houston.” That means Texan casual with a New York twist—think Hyden Yoo, Apolis Activism, TOMS Shoes, Billykirk, and Gilded Age, as well as watches from the Huntington Beach-based Tsovet, Simon Miller jeans, handmade leather sandals by Jutta Neumann, and lightweight cotton button downs from Tysa’s new menswear collection. It may be “fashion,” but the space shouldn’t scare off guys—with its refinished concrete floors, weathered steel racks, and even a paint-stained tailgate from a local painter’s old Chevy pickup, the vibe is more garage than Galleria. It seems to be working: The reception has been so warm in the few weeks Mortar has been soft-opened that an e-commerce site is already in the works. (It’s due mid-April.) “Most people come to Houston and their first impression is usually a bad one because it’s not a really accessible city, so you really have to seek things out and make your own experience here,” says Chapel. “At Mortar, we’re really trying to create that experience.”
Mortar is located at 1844 Westheimer, Houston, (713) 529-0009, www.shopmortar.com.