WEST LOOP — Chicago's best spot to spy the country's hottest athletes might not be a pricey restaurant or trendy club — it may be a custom suit shop.
At ESQ Clothing in the West Loop, owner Ge Wang's roster of clients reads like a fantasy football dream team. The shop counts Chicago Bears star running back Matt Forte, Bears tight end Martellus Bennett and Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles as clients.
It's been a busy season for Wang. In June, he dressed first round pick Jerian Grant for the NBA draft, landing the now Knick at the top of three best dressed lists. In August, he opened ESQ Clothing's first showroom, at 555 W. Jackson Blvd., next to Lou Mitchell's.
The custom clothier's name is a nod to Wang's former profession. Before he was brokering suits for sports stars and businessmen, the 29-year-old was an attorney practicing real estate law.
Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, running back Matt Forte and Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles all sport ESQ Clothing designs. [Instagram/ESQ Clothing]
After graduating from DePaul University's College of Law in 2012, it was was his own quest to find a perfect-fitting suit that led him to eventually leave the industry altogether.
"I had to wear a suit every day. Out of college, we all have that one 'buy one, get 17 free' deal [at discount retailers]. Then we graduate to designer, and then to custom," said Wang, who completed his undergrad at Notre Dame.
Stephanie Lulay says body sizes and personalities make it challenging:
He had two custom suits made for himself — one here and one in China.
"The one made overseas was much better," Wang said. "I got to thinking, why don't I make a few more for myself, and a few more for my friends?"
Over the next year, Wang worked to source an exclusive group of tailors, primarily in China, and quality British and Italian fabrics. Today, ESQ Clothing offers clients 20,000 suit fabrics to choose from.
Wang said his goal is to help his clients develop their style identity — a service that really appeals to athletes with personalities as big as their talent.
"With a lot of made-to-measure places, even though it's custom, they use the same template, the same silhouette, the same cut. Even though you're paying for custom, you end up looking like everybody else," Wang said. "It goes beyond a difference in a lapel. It's much, much more than that."
ESQ Clothing offers custom shoes in an array of colors, materials and finishes. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Forte was ESQ Clothing's first major client. Wang owes the introduction to his friend Jason Davis, who played fullback for the Bears for a short time in 2008.
"Matt was one of my first," he said. Today, ESQ Clothing is dressing 100 athletes, including players in more than 60 percent of NFL locker rooms.
"The athletes, they talk. If they see something cool, they'll say, 'Hey, where did you get that?'" Wang said. "Through that, a lot of the Bears have come in, and guys [on teams] from San Francisco to New York."
Dressing world class athletes — often known for their sizable bodies — presents different challenges than outfitting businessmen. They want to show off their hard-earned physique, but it can be hard to fit an NFL player, Wang said.
A custom red velvet jacket lined with a screenprint on silk, made for Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.[DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
And they want to stand out.
"With professional athletes, they're not too concerned with their navy blues and their charcoals," Wang said. "They want something that stands out, they want to show off their personality. They want to be unique."
For big stars, the bespoke suits Wang creates are "one offs" — suits they'll wear once for a post-game interview or event that they don't plan to wear again.
Still, the athletes are "normal people," he said. Forte, who has grown from client to friend, has been known to hang out in the shop, Wang said.
"Sometimes, you'll just find him here [in the showroom] playing FIFA," he said. "At the end of the day, we're all still kids at heart."
A football helmet signed by Chicago Bears running back Matte Forte at ESQ Clothing in the West Loop. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
ESQ Clothing's off-the-rack shirts start at $150, custom shirts at $300, off-the-rack suits start at $1,250 and custom suits start at $2,000, Wang said. The shop also sells custom ties, cuff links and shoes — an idea he got from his big-heeled clientele.
So many NBA players can't fit into designer shoes that top out at size 13. ESQ Clothing's first pair were size 17s for Jahlil Okafor, a Whitney Young grad, third overall pick in this year's NBA draft and current Sixers center.
ESQ Clothing is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
A custom wool coat at ESQ Clothing, located at 555 W. Jackson Blvd. in the West Loop. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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