When Tee Faircloth stepped off the plane in Johannesburg three years ago and got his first whiff of South African air, something clicked. "I felt like I had come ho—" he says, cutting himself off before uttering the cliché. But clearly the trip affected him. A former bond trader on Wall Street, the ever classically dressed and, yes, handsome 33-year-old is now the owner of F. M. Allen, an upscale safari outfitter and antique British campaign furniture dealer on New York's Madison Avenue.
The name of the store came courtesy of one Frank Maurice Allen, a legendary safari guide who arrived in Kenya in 1927 from England hoping to be the next great white hunter. He was hired the same year by Baron Bror von Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton (both later portrayed in Out of Africa) and was soon counting British royalty and American movie stars among his clients. Shortly after Allen launched his eponymous safari company in 1947, he had affairs with Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly (during the same safari) and hosted Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan on their honeymoon. "People used to say he wasn't the best hunter, but you had the most fun on his trips," says Faircloth, who purchased the Nairobi, Kenya-based company in 2003 and promptly opened a store in New York. His F. M. Allen continues to arrange bespoke safaris (look for a South African tour hosted by New York chef Daniel Boulud in 2006), but it now also offers luggage, clothing, and antique campaign furniture (the stylish and ingenious knockdown beds, chairs, and tables designed to be packed for travel at the turn of the last century).
Swathed in dark wood, brass, and leather, the narrow shop is charming, crowded with vintage one-offs and novelties suggestive of the aristocrats who traveled so well in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A pair of pine trunks from 1914 ($3,500 each) were used to transport the silver of a Royal Navy officer. A 1923 crocodile vanity case ($10,500) holds a mother-of-pearl manicure set, an ivory boot pull, a journal, a collapsible curling iron, and a sewing kit.
Faircloth looks to his partner Nicholas Brawer—a fixture in the Manhattan shop and perhaps the world's foremost authority on British campaign furniture—to keep the store filled with items that conjure up the glamour of the golden age of travel. Vintage leather trunks, gun cases, and hat boxes are displayed throughout. Snakeskin and crocodile flasks with sterling-silver accents ($650-$3,500) date from 1889 to 1939. There are twenties crocodile picture frames ($1,450-$2,800) along with a handful of thirties riding crops ($550 each) displayed in a twenties leather cartridge case ($2,750) that doubles nicely as a Champagne bucket.
But it's in the back of the shop, under a draped canvas ceiling, that you'll find Faircloth's original inspiration for opening the store: a rack of neatly hung, perfectly pressed safari clothes. Before leaving for that first trip to Africa, Faircloth struggled to find an appropriate but still stylish wardrobe. "No one made clothes for such hot weather that looked good," he says. "The shirts had one hundred pockets and weighed five pounds." So he decided to create practical and refined clothes for the bush. Faircloth knew that companies were using new high-tech fibers (stain-resistant khakis, wicking fabrics) to manufacture highly functional clothes, and he did not understand why no one had employed this technology in designing fashionable wear. He promptly stocked his new store with water-repellent, antimicrobial, and sun-resistant Egyptian-cotton trousers ($290) and skirts ($330), belted shirt-dresses ($400), as well as safari shirts ($300), vests ($450), and jackets ($550). More to the point, though: They are romantic, classically tailored designs in fabrics that hang smartly and are velvety to the touch.
Next came luggage. Inspired by the same thirties style of elegance in travel, Faircloth introduced a line of safari bags, ranging from a canvas Dopp kit ($125) to a sporting bag in a calf hide that ages quickly for a traditional leather-bag look ($760). The half-day bag ($585) is especially attractive, as is the canvas cooler ($460).
Faircloth recently unveiled flowing skirts and suede pants, four-ply cashmere sweaters, and vicuña scarves for winter. "We want to be the Range Rover of clothes," he explains, "with gorgeous pieces in classic silhouettes that are updated, modernized, sophisticated—and completely wearable."
Also in store are crocodile handbags made in South Africa ($4,500-$7,500), alligator wallets ($275-$290), candles, Victorian jewelry, and plans for a fragrance for 2005. As for collectibles, Faircloth is always on the hunt: Now he's eyeing an 18th-century campaign bed belonging to a history professor at Princeton. But Faircloth isn't confident he'll be able to wrest it from the collector's grasp anytime soon: "He sleeps in it every night."
F. M. Allen, 962 Madison Ave.; 212-737-4374.