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Blue-Chip Socks

Nagrani proudly displays his wares (this one's called the Churchill) in his Manhattan office. His
Nagrani proudly displays his wares (this one's called the Churchill) in his Manhattan office. His "basic" socks start at $30 and go way, way up from there. Most of his customers are businessmen looking for a sartorial kick in the pants. (Photos By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

He names each design after leaders in industry, in the performing arts, in popular culture and after very good customers who are members of his 21 Club. These gentlemen have bought at least 21 pairs of socks and are invited to vote on which discontinued sock styles should be reintroduced. They get to bid on limited-edition socks. They're allowed to buy directly from Nagrani. They are afforded the opportunity to spend more than $100 on a pair of socks. And, apparently, they do. They are sock super-freaks.

Nagrani makes a "Gatsby" sock with the image of a woman sipping a martini, strategically resting along a man's Achilles' tendon. "She's holding him up," he explains. Another pair of socks named "Luther" have a floral pattern winding up the inside of the calf; the flowers are revealed only when a man sits down and crosses his legs. He named another pair of socks "Brian," after a customer who is attached to his dog Bottle Cap. The socks have stylized paw prints all over them.

The one thing Nagrani doesn't sell are basic black socks -- his black ones have a contrasting purple toe and trim. His socks are not for your meat-and-potatoes man. They are for the guy who goes looking for organic, free-range, grain-fed Kobe beef.

"Rather than be something to everybody," Nagrani says, "I'd rather be everything to somebody."

What is this sock madness? Is it possible for a pair of socks to actually be worth $30, to contain that much expensive labor and fine yarns? No, socks are one of the least labor-intensive apparel products to produce. But really, that's a rhetorical question, akin to asking a woman whether a pair of shoes is actually worth $400. What's the price of pleasure?

Gary Smith, 50, is a Northern Virginia defense consultant. He is married and has three children. He is an Ovadufut sock man.

"I probably have 35 or 40 pairs," he says. "I'm Mr. Impulse Buyer."

He discovered Nagrani's socks while reading the Robb Report, a magazine about incredibly expensive stuff. He saw all those different-colored socks spread out before him. They called out to him.

"At first, I generally only wore them with bluejeans and khaki pants on weekends," he says, sounding a bit like an addict launching into a confessional. Now he wears them with his Brioni suits and his Santoni handmade shoes. "You've got to look right. Especially for guys, there's no other way to define yourself. You've got your tie, your shirt and your socks."

Smith wears orange socks. He wears socks with pink and blue polka dots. And he wears them in an industry overwhelmingly defined by bland gray suits and button-down shirts.

What sort of reaction did colleagues have when they noticed his sock lust? "They thought I was a homosexual," Smith says, laughing.

Nagrani doesn't promote his socks among celebrities, although he does point out that actor Samuel L. Jackson wore a pair of them in the film "Unbreakable." Most of his customers are businessmen and government types, men for whom wearing a pair of orange socks named after Mick Jagger might be considered flirting with scandal.

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