A conversation with Philip Saul, owner of the South End's Sault New England
My final piece for Yelp Boston didn't end up getting used, so I figured I'd post it here instead. Sault NE is probably my favorite store in Boston, so it was huge fun for me to get the chance to sit down with the owner, Philip Saul to chat about menswear, New England, and how he got into retail (again). I'm also glad I finally got to use the cover photo for something, even if it is a bit old now.
Despite having one of the most regionally inspired clothing stores in Boston, Sault NE owner, Philip Saul isn't actually a New England native. But he’s more enamored with the area than many people who’ve called it home all their lives.
“I’ve always had a thing for New England,” Saul says. “You’ve got this cluster of states where you can easily be at the mountains, you can be at the beach, you can be in a metropolis. It’s very historic, but it’s also very modern. It’s kind of got everything going on.”
Originally from rural Pennsylvania, Saul moved to Boston to follow a career in retail. Growing up, he knew he wanted to do something creative with his life, but struggled to put his finger on exactly what.
“I’ve always been a very visual person,” he says, but growing up in the sticks, he never learned about industries more suited to his interests. Merchandising wasn't even on his radar, but he stumbled into it.
“With retail, I get to be in the fashion industry without being a fashion designer," he says. After many years working in merchandising for big brands, he resolved to put the effort into his own store. He took the leap of faith in 2011, during the recession, spurred by his desire to take a risk, and Boston’s thankfully steady economy.
“I kind of saw an opening in Boston for mens clothing,” he says. “Being somewhat fashionable myself, I couldn’t find a place to go and shop.”
Even if they were working in more conservative industries, he knew there were other creatives in the city like himself who’d appreciate a place to be able to pick up timelessly stylish clothing, inspired by the classic preppy and outdoorsy aesthetics of New England.
They’re safe styles, but Saul gives them a breath of life by stocking brands with modern cuts and fits, and basic items with something a little unique about them — whether it's that they're manufactured locally, or feature a patch that he’s collaborated with the brand on, for example.
While he wanted it to be a fashionable store, Saul didn’t want it to be mega exclusive, or only stock one rack of shirts in a minimalist space. “I wanted there to be layers,” he says — and not just the woolly kind that fill the shelves come fall.
“I love to collect things, I love to put things together,” he says, and in addition to clothing, he's curated an immaculate collection of accessories, an apothecary of quality grooming products, and an entire gifts section of goodies that somebody would actually be happy to receive. Everything the modern man needs.
And his desire to curate extends beyond the physical.
“There’s the scent if there’s a candle burning, or the front door’s open,” Saul says. “The music is super important too. Is it upbeat, and appropriate for the season?” Every element of the small space is considered, and constantly adjusted to keep things seasonal, fresh, and current. Most importantly, it’s entirely him.
“The biggest payoff is getting to be creative and putting my own stamp on something that everybody can see," he says. "It’s like being a photographer and having your work published in a major magazine."
Owning his own store, he says, “has really made me more secure as a person, and confident. I never thought I’d be doing the things that I’m doing now.”
His vision's success is gratifying to him, but it's still a delicate balance. Not only does putting a piece of you out in public open you up for critiques that can feel very personal, Saul says, but you have to walk the tightrope of retail, as he puts it. He has to make sure he’s simultaneously staying true to the aspects of the store which made it successful in the first place, but also keep finding new and fresh things that will both sell and take Sault NE forward.
It isn't a problem unique to his store. As big brands attempt to reinvent themselves to chase trends and relevance, they’ve found their popularity ebbing and flowing while they struggle to maintain that balance. But Sault NE’s 21st Century turns on timeless regional style seems like a shore thing.