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    Pork pie hats, fedoras, Panamas — a salesperson at GQ Unlimited, on West Broadway at Eighth Street, might even scare up a straw boater if you feel like gambling on — or sending up — the dandy look. Just don’t ask for the “real” Derby hat (aka the bowler); it appears to be one clotheshorse accessory not making it to the starting gate in 2019.

    Roger Mahbubani, who co-owns GQ Unlimited with his wife Michelle, started selling men’s clothing 28 years ago at a store called New York Fashions in Radcliff, Kentucky, servicing Fort Knox clientele. Why near an Army base? “Soldiers always get paid,” he says. “It’s a guaranteed place of business.” Mahbubani is a native of Chennai, India, and lived for a time in Liberia before joining his brother in California. The two operated a men’s shop near Fort Campbell along the Kentucky-Tennessee border before Roger went off on his own.

    Mahbubani, 58, is tall and easygoing on the surface, but totally hands on with the business. He dresses casually — in, say, an untucked deep-blue polka dot shirt, black denim pants and dark Nike running shoes. When he’s onsite at the spacious Broadway store, where 7,500 square feet of clothing and accessories are on display, customers bring their questions directly to him. Michelle, a native Louisvillian (the two met at a barbecue hosted by mutual friends), spends much of her time at GQ Unlimited’s second location in Indian Trail Square off Preston Highway. One of their two adopted sons works in IT and designed the company’s attractive website. The URL? Dapperfam.com. It’s a family affair.

    After a few location changes, the Mahbubanis renamed the store GQ Unlimited approximately 18 years ago. (This earned them a trademark-related query from GQ magazine — formerly Gentlemen’s Quarterly — which backed off, Mahbubani says, only after he explained that “our GQ is for Great Quality.”) They moved to the Broadway location a decade ago after purchasing the glass-fronted former Sears men’s store and S & H Green Stamp that now bears their sign and multiple street-facing window displays. GQ Unlimited draws customers from both downtown and the West End.

    In early March, Michelle Mahbubani was de-boxing the spring shipment of Dobbs hats and stacking them on a counter in front of four display shelves, which run maybe 50 feet along a side wall. Each stack featured identical specimens, mounted up to eight high, separated above and below by oval cardboard fillers, and all waiting patiently for a prospective wearer to invite them on the town.

    Michelle calls some hats on the counter by their nicknames, pointing out an Untouchable (inspired by the 1987 movie) and a Godfather (go ahead, make an offer they can’t refuse). The black straw Bishop from the brand Dobbs has a fedora-like brim but a flat, pork-pie top that makes you look like you’ll be picking up the sax later and jamming with Wynton Marsalis. Straw statements can be made in striking spring colors as well. Stacks of compact fedoras, made from airy Florentine Milan straw, pop in shades of lavender and burgundy. A more subtle approach might favor the two-tone Camarillo, with its bleached white top and light straw-colored brim — surprising, but not a big leap with a linen suit.

    Listen to unfashionable me, talking like a Dapper Dan. Seeing 300 hats will do that to you.

    GQ Unlimited will sell 200 or more lids during Derby season (prices range from $45 to $150). Before the Mahbubanis do buying for the season, they watch what the young celebrities wear at the Grammys and Oscars. “We focus on ordering some of those things,” Roger says. He points out a pair of sport coats adorned with white blossoms that look like they were painted by Monet, paisley and polka-dotted shirts that might be worn in quiet riot with a tie and coat, and some Miami-inspired pastels in coral and light yellow. “Men are stepping out a lot more,” he says. “On Derby, they pretty much go for anything.”

    This originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Brimming with Style." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photo by William DeShazer, williamdeshazer.com

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