Darhel Anthony's Budding Atelier, Coup de Grâce, Celebrates the Beauty - and the Pain - of Process
By Joe Strider
July 24, 2022
After spending nearly two hours with Darhel Anthony at his midtown atelier, Coup de Grâce, I found myself waiting in line at The Strand bookstore with the latest edition of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist in my hand. I hadn't planned on purchasing a new book that day, being perfectly content with the one that was already perched on my nightstand at home, but after hearing Darhel passionately recount the classic tale during the course of our conversation I left his shop feeling utterly compelled to pick up a copy as soon as I could.
The story, as it turns out, is about a young shepherd who leaves his home in Andalusia for the distant pyramids of Egypt, searching for a hidden treasure which has appeared often in his dreams. Along the way, he is faced with the difficult decision to either turn back, remain where he is, or continue onward toward his goal. Ultimately, the young shepherd carries on and reaches his destination, but not before the owner of a glass shop tests his will to succeed with sad tales of his own failures, having big dreams himself but refusing to ever act on them.
As I listened intently, trying not to swivel back and forth too much in the small desk chair which I had borrowed from one of Darhel's sewing machine stations, I waited eagerly for the point of this unexpected synopsis to be revealed. How, I wondered, will a bespoke tailor from New York relate to the story of a wandering shepherd from Spain? Finally, Darhel delivered.
"Whenever I consider my place in the world," he concluded, "I always think about that book and I say to myself, I never want to be like the guy in the glass shop."
Armed with a needle and thread, as well as a fierce love of classic men's tailoring, giving up was never an option for Darhel, who officially opened his first shop in New York City's Garment District roughly ten months ago. Here, evidence of his bespoke tailoring services are on full display, with dozens of client patterns dangling from beneath a busy worktop, rolls of color-coded thread arranged neatly on pegs, and countless fabric books filling the shelves of the modest one-room space. From the walls, finished and unfinished garments hang like portraits just waiting to be discovered by the right collector. I pointed to one of them shortly after entering the shop, a handsome brown linen jacket which closely resembled a safari jacket, and asked him to tell me about it.
Casually, Darhel removed the jacket from its hook, politely acknowledging my simple observation about the garment's appearance, then tossed it on the carpet in front of me and proceeded to point out all the ways in which it was not, in fact, a safari jacket. His explanation, which provided me with a thorough schooling of the various aspects of different jacket constructions, immediately indicated the true nature of Darhel's artistry, both as a designer and as a craftsman. "I just wanted to make something that could be worn as a top layer, like a jacket, but without actually creating a traditional jacket," he said, explaining that he prefers to reinterpret rather than duplicate. From there, equipped with a basic concept in mind and having both the creativity and the skill set to execute it, he started from scratch and let his imagination lead the way, resulting in a finished product which is not only beautiful, but is also completely unique in all of its details and characteristics. The final combination of these features, which prevent it from being classified as any one particular pre-existing style, ultimately presents a garment that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In other words, a garment which is solely Coup de Grâce.
At the moment, Darhel's latest creation can be found on his website in the form of a linen summer shirt, offered in blush, citron, and mint. Again, his inspiration for the piece was simple yet effective, motivated by a desire to make a light-weight and versatile shirt for the summer while also adhering to the timeless code of classic tailoring which he so greatly admires.
Expanding on his love of classic menswear and its accompanying silhouettes, Darhel adds that he appreciates garments with history and that are born from purpose. "I want to make pieces that are timeless," he says. "Garments that are new, but at the same time feel like they've always been there." Again, Darhel reiterates his desire to always reinterpret instead of recreate, and says that he likes to start with a blank page, not a template, when it comes time to create something new. Doing so, however, requires a high level of technical skill - a talent which Darhel did not always have - so in order to gain the knowledge and expertise that was required to start, he attended the Art Institute of New York, where he learned the basics of pattern making and tailoring. From there, he continued his education from home, honing his craft in a self-taught manner which consisted of nothing more than practice, practice, and more practice. Considering the exquisite style and quality of his garments, I was highly impressed to learn this.
As Darhel scooped up the jacket from the floor and placed it back on the hook, I came to admire the same cool and calm demeanor that I had recognized in him when we first met over seven years ago. I had just started as a sales rep in SoHo, my first real job out of college, and while the rest of my colleagues whirled around the shop floor like headless madmen, trying their best to keep up with the hectic pace of New York City retail, Darhel stood out as someone who prefers to move at his own speed. Not slowly, by any means, but never rushed either - always operating with thoughtful purpose and clearly valuing the quality of the interaction over the sale itself. Over time, I also noticed a certain nature about Darhel which prevents him from becoming overly-excited, consistently acting and speaking in a manner which was calm, direct and deliberate. This quality certainly lends to his level-headed personality, and, in a day and age when so many people meaninglessly refer to every little thing as "crazy" or "the best", his honest and low-key way of communicating is actually incredibly refreshing. Knowing all of this, it made perfect sense to see Darhel now, doing the quiet and mindful work of a bespoke tailor, and seemed to me like he was exactly where he needed be.
Rather than setting up shop in a more fashionable neighborhood, such as SoHo or West Village, Darhel decided upon the grittier Garment District for the home of his atelier for a very simple and practical reason. "Everything I need is right here," he said. Taking full advantage of this historic section of Manhattan, which has celebrated and supported the clothing industry since the 1920's, Darhel can access supplies, such as thread, buttons and fabric, in an instant, requiring him to wander no more than a just a few blocks whenever he needs to stock up. The area also provides him with the unique opportunity to acquire some impossible-to-find fabrics, with overstock from certain top designers popping up in local textile stores from time to time. When asked if he knew of any other bespoke tailors in his building, though, he said that he did not. "There are a lot of designers in New York," he said, "but not a lot of tailors." I mentioned some of the other young and relatively new sartorialists in the city that I knew of, like F.E. Castleberry and J. Mueser, and while Darhel's approach is very different from theirs, he agreed that it was promising to see a new generation of clothiers find success in the space and carry on a rich legacy of tailoring.
Feeling as though I had taken up far too much of Darhel's time, I concluded our meeting by asking him about the name of his atelier, Coup de Grâce. Translated from French, the phrase literally means "stroke of grace", though it is most commonly used to describe the act of putting something out of its misery, like delivering a final blow. Darhel, however, was quick to inform me that he doesn't interpret the phase to mean the end of something, but instead views it as the culmination of a long process which then allows something to move on to the next phase of its life. Like hammering the last nail into a house, rather than firing a shot to the head. "After all", he says, "even though my journey with the garment ends once I'm finished with it, its true purpose as a piece of clothing has really only just begun." Harping back to the common meaning of the phrase, Darhel does admit that a certain violence exists in the process of creation (metaphorically speaking). The cutting of fabric, for instance, or the pricking of fingers whilst sewing. He even revealed that the logo he chose - a rose - is meant to represent the pain that must be endured in order to admire the true beauty of something, suggesting that one must hold a rose's thorny stem in order to enjoy its sweet smell. He also referenced some of his own personal sacrifices, which have been required for him to do what he loves. "I've gone broke like five times," he admitted shamelessly toward the beginning of our conversation. It's clear, though, that such setbacks haven't bothered him all that much, sharing later that he views money as no more or less important than thread - being simply a resource that's needed in order to keep moving forward and to keep creating. "Good or bad, it's all part of the process," he says. "And the process is the most beautiful part of it all." He doesn't forget to mention his family, though, acknowledging that nothing he's achieved thus far would be possible without their support.
A few days after our meeting, I finished reading The Alchemist for myself and realized that the story can and should inspire all of us. It's a tale about never giving up on your dreams and also realizing that so often, the journey is the destination. Witnessing the satisfaction that Darhel now receives from his work, it's clear that true success lies in the freedom of following your own path and creating your own process, while also realizing that failures are a small price to pay when compared to settling for unfulfilling or meaningless work. Not only is Darhel an inspiring example in this regard, but the clothing he creates is truly remarkable, proving as well that practice really does pay off. After our chat, I emerged onto 36th street feeling happy and excited for Darhel, eager to see how his atelier would progress. With his skill as a craftsman and creativity as a designer, I walked back to the subway with the utmost confidence that Coup de Grâce would continue to bloom. However, being a relatively slow reader and having decided already that I would be picking up a copy of The Alchemist on my way home, I left the Garment District also feeling greatly relieved that Darhel's example of inspiration hadn't come from Tolstoy's War and Peace.