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The New Brooks Brothers

sid11111

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I wonder if there are some queues they could take away from the Ralph Lauren model...they have a handful of very different lines both in quality of build and style, you can find a RL polo on the rack at Macy's, but also pick up a RLPL camel hair coat for $15K...no one seems to really turn there nose down at Ralph Lauren the brand despite

Put a handful of B&Ms in the right areas that sell mainline and upscale pieces, diffuse a decent amount of the lower level and mainline stuff to 3rd party vendors, and make some unapologetically high end, high price stuff

I think the difference is that RL chose this model from a position of power, and BB is trying to crawl out of a PR nightmare
I personally find that the difference between BB and RL is the latter makes trendy takes of classic clothes (ivy or western) cheaply and that translates to the prices.

I would imagine they'd have a lot more custom if they would ignore their "core demographic" of moaning traditionalists who don't spend any money anyway and do a black label again at mainline price.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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I think the main thing about the RL model isn't that they have differentiated lines. Many companies have differentiated lines, although RL has more than most. And they're among the most successful at it. Even with all the terrible Lauren clothing and big pony polo shirts, people still love the main brand.

I think the main thing about RL is that they made classic style feel cool. Brooks Brothers is not cool, even in its heyday. Both are aspirational, but aspirational in very different ways. I don't think BB will ever be cool in that way.
 

Rosarito

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Brooks Brothers is not cool, even in its heyday. Both are aspirational, but aspirational in very different ways. I don't think BB will ever be cool in that way.
When I think of Brooks Brothers, I think less about the classic business uniform and prep/trad looks, which seem less "cool" to me, and I think more about the way that style was hijacked in some ways by popular culture in the 60s and 70s. The way people like Andy Warhol incorporated the Brooks Brothers classics into their own signature style seems very cool to me and still looks fresh to my eye when I look at old photos from that era. However, I understand that this very niche perspective probably wouldn't be a good branding direction for Brooks Brothers to go since Ralph Lauren already sort-of rode that wave many decades ago.
 

pasadena man

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I think the main thing about the RL model isn't that they have differentiated lines. Many companies have differentiated lines, although RL has more than most. And they're among the most successful at it. Even with all the terrible Lauren clothing and big pony polo shirts, people still love the main brand.

I think the main thing about RL is that they made classic style feel cool. Brooks Brothers is not cool, even in its heyday. Both are aspirational, but aspirational in very different ways. I don't think BB will ever be cool in that way.
“…The main thing about RL is that they made classic style feel cool” is the most economical phrase I can recall reading on RL’s consumer premise, and on the RL vs. BB relationship. BB may have problems with its business model. RL may have (arguably) preempted the space that BB could have moved into to “remain relevant”.

BB is also fighting hurricane force winds from the zeitgeist, however. At a time when statues of Columbus are being torn down, and Ivy college presidents are flagellating themselves for being Ivy League institutions, it is hard to position a firm with the tradition and traditional image of BB favorably to a broad, mainstream audience IMO.
 

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Mahatma Jawndi
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hard to position a firm with the tradition and traditional image of BB favorably to a broad, mainstream audience IMO.
I think for BB to return to "greatness" (as defined by menswear enthusiasts), it simply can't be a broad, mainstream brand. It has to be very niche.

I think many menswear enthusiasts frame this issue as "how does BB become relevant again." But it was never really relevant as a business for the great majority of American consumers, in terms of actual sales. Prior to the '90s, most men didn't buy their clothes from Brooks Brothers -- they bought from shops who took their direction from Brooks Brothers. Copies of Brooks Brothers designs, most notably things such as the OCBD and sack suit, showed up at other retailers. People bought from "downmarket" stores, as that's what was available to them and what they could afford.

I've said this before, but prior to the 1970s, Brooks Brothers had eleven locations, which were all located in major city centers. This was during the tenure of John Woods, who's widely considered to be one of the "great" Brooks Brothers CEOs. Later, Brooks was sold to Allied, who then sold it to someone who held it for a year. In 1988, that person flipped the company and sold it to Marks & Spencer, who bought it with some grocery store with the plans to expand both. Marks & Spencer then sold it to RBA. At each point in these newer acquisitions, the owners sought a higher return on their investment. So they built and built -- eventually bringing the number of stores from 11 to 250 (150 in the United States, then 100 outlets). There are also additional locations overseas.

The mainstream part really came to the fore in the '90s. This is the part of Brooks Brothers' history that made it both accessible and more affordable to people on this forum (including me). Before that, Brooks Brothers mostly served a small section of America's upper class, including Manhattan financiers, white-collar middle management professionals, Ivy League graduates, and the like.

That retail footprint eventually brought the company down. Designs became more watered down and mainstream to serve a broader audience. At some point, the company shifted to a fashion production schedule, where clothes became increasingly seasonable. Unable to get consumers into their retail locations, they had to slash prices and entice people with discounts. Shoppers eventually became reluctant to ever pay full price.

Before Marks & Spencer took over, Brooks Brothers had one sale per year for their OCBD. It was for some measly discount like 15%. It was also held after Christmas. Shirts were commonly sold out at stores on the first day, even with the nominal discount. Now they have year-round sales, cutting prices from $150 to "four for $200." You can't have American manufacturing on a $50 shirt.

IMO, for Brooks Brothers to return to "greatness," it would have to abandon the goal of being mainstream or broadly relevant. Shut down all the stores except for a few key ones in major cities. Use those spaces to create the idea of a "dream." Then produce a range of luxury goods. It's unlikely that anyone will copy Brooks Brothers like they did in the early 20th century -- the market has moved on, and the consumer base for that type of product is both internally more diverse and not as culturally relevant. But you can at least have a few luxury stores that carry the BB name. If they did this, Brooks Brothers would be even less relevant on this board, as we would be priced out.

I think more likely, the new owners are looking for a high return on their investment, so they will make similar moves as Marks & Spencer.
 

Panama

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Recently most people were complaining about made in Malaysia. In April 2020 TAL Group and Esquel closed their Malaysian factories due to international demand and costs. So I guess people will be complaining about made in Bangladesh or Vietnam if you're lucky.
 

knittieguy

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Was reading one of those articles and saw this. I swear I remember this guy from the BB ads and catalogs of yore.
Screen-Shot-2019-03-28-at-3.39.01-PM-1024x760.jpeg
 

Steve Smith

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In his 2018 interview with the New York Times, Del Vecchio said that the Garland, N.C., shirt factory was their only domestic factory that operated at a loss. And that was when it was rare to see an OCBD for $100. So even at full price it appears it didn't pencil out. He went on to say:
Accounting. That factory was one part of a huge company. Any accountant could structure it as operating at a profit or a loss. I'm an outsider and I know of two specific accounting decisions which hamstrung that plant.
 

pasadena man

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I think the main thing about RL is that they made classic style feel cool. Brooks Brothers is not cool, even in its heyday. Both are aspirational, but aspirational in very different ways. I don't think BB will ever be cool in that way.
I am curious how you would define the respective “aspirational” visions of BB and RL. I also wonder about your comment that “Brooks Brothers is not cool, even in it’s heyday”. Did you mean the brand; how about individual products? A lot of our concept of cool comes from mid 20th century jazz. If I were to close my eyes and think of one garment that I would most associate with “cool jazz”, it would probably be a BB white OCBD.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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I am curious how you would define the respective “aspirational” visions of BB and RL. I also wonder about your comment that “Brooks Brothers is not cool, even in it’s heyday”. Did you mean the brand; how about individual products? A lot of our concept of cool comes from mid 20th century jazz. If I were to close my eyes and think of one garment that I would most associate with “cool jazz”, it would probably be a BB white OCBD.
I mean the brand. I think Ralph Lauren made a lot of classic American clothing, including stuff found at Brooks Brothers, feel cool. During the immediate post-war years, a lot of traditional American clothing (e.g. Man in the Grey Flannel Suit) started getting pegged as "establishment," and I think that slide against traditionalism went even further in the 1970s. Without Ralph, I don't know if Ivy/ Trad clothing as a distinct style would have survived past the 1970s.

Do we know any jazz musicians that were actually Brooks customers? I'm sure some bought some clothes there, but I can't name any specific ones. The only Ivy-Jazz clothier I can think of is Charlie Davidson, and he was one of the "downmarket" Brooks-style companies. (I don't mean downmarket in the pejorative sense, just in the sense that they took a lot of style direction from Brooks).
 

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Mahatma Jawndi
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In September 1958, the New York Times asked a panel of people what they thought of the Ivy look, which took direction from Brooks. You can see that those who are concerned about "cool" dislike the look, while those who value tradition and propriety favor it.


Some choice responses:

Tallulah Bankhead, Actress: I'm an anti-Ivy girl. I'd rather go out with an Indian buck in a blanket or a Moor in a burnoose than with one of those Madison Avenue lemmings. They're so enslaved by conformity that when up and about they all look as if they'd been hacked out by the same die. If they are eager for uniforms, why don't they just enlist in the army?

Clothes can be used to express personality, granted the clothes have any. The Ivy Look boys seem to be trying to conceal their personalities. They'd be well advised to observe the chameleon and reflect on the might of Joseph, the boy with the coat of many colors. The Ivy-Look is a form of cowardice, a confession of defeat, and an offense to the eye. Do I hear a second?

Ashley Montagu, Anthropologist: The Ivy League look in men’s fashion is to be deplored on a number of grounds, if not the ground of taste itself. The Ivy look is a sorry testimony to the fact that individuality is something to which most men have ceased to aspire, and that conformity has become the ideal. Even those who have never seen the outside of an Ivy League college want to look like a pickled undergraduate.

Imitation of our betters is well enough – but not so much of their exteriors as of their interiors. It is not clothes that maketh the man, but manners. If we are going to be tailored to the same pattern, we shall end up as dull, dreary, and disappointing as the man in the gray flannel suit. Blessed are the eccentric, who do not conform to conformity either in dress or in ideas.

Charles Addams, Cartoonist: I've always loved the Ivy straitjacket and so has my Family, although they have never been notable for their sartorial splendor, being generally hard to fit or just plain outsize. The little boy has been an Ivy enthusiast since 1912 and will continue to be, I imagine, even after he's grown up. In fact, he'll probably be buried in it like all the rest of us.

James Kelley, Advertising Executive: “The ILL (Ivy League Look) was here BBB (Before Brooks Brothers), and therefore seems obsolescence-proof. Any raiment tic which has withstood the eras of Victoria, Edward, Doughboy, Coolridge, GI, and latter-day Squaredom must have something. The ‘something’ is unpadded honesty, unfrilled comfort, and freedom from guile.

Those narrow ILL shoulders, center vents, and unpleated trousers offer soothing anonymity. ILL will hold firm against side-vented glumness of the BCL (British Continental Look) and remain in favor among canny Madison Avenue where nobody cares to compete with colorful client plumage.”

John Wood, President of Brooks Brothers: “For generations, the Brooks Brothers Look was a byword in the Ivy League colleges, signifying – as it still does today – not only the natural shoulder and other Brooks styling details, but conservative good taste in dressing generally.

That this basic look has recently been ‘discovered’ and named ‘The Ivy Look’ merely illustrates once again that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
 

K. Nights

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In September 1958, the New York Times asked a panel of people what they thought of the Ivy look, which took direction from Brooks. You can see that those who are concerned about "cool" dislike the look, while those who value tradition and propriety favor it.


Some choice responses:

Tallulah Bankhead, Actress: I'm an anti-Ivy girl. I'd rather go out with an Indian buck in a blanket or a Moor in a burnoose than with one of those Madison Avenue lemmings. They're so enslaved by conformity that when up and about they all look as if they'd been hacked out by the same die. If they are eager for uniforms, why don't they just enlist in the army?

Clothes can be used to express personality, granted the clothes have any. The Ivy Look boys seem to be trying to conceal their personalities. They'd be well advised to observe the chameleon and reflect on the might of Joseph, the boy with the coat of many colors. The Ivy-Look is a form of cowardice, a confession of defeat, and an offense to the eye. Do I hear a second?

Ashley Montagu, Anthropologist: The Ivy League look in men’s fashion is to be deplored on a number of grounds, if not the ground of taste itself. The Ivy look is a sorry testimony to the fact that individuality is something to which most men have ceased to aspire, and that conformity has become the ideal. Even those who have never seen the outside of an Ivy League college want to look like a pickled undergraduate.

Imitation of our betters is well enough – but not so much of their exteriors as of their interiors. It is not clothes that maketh the man, but manners. If we are going to be tailored to the same pattern, we shall end up as dull, dreary, and disappointing as the man in the gray flannel suit. Blessed are the eccentric, who do not conform to conformity either in dress or in ideas.

Charles Addams, Cartoonist: I've always loved the Ivy straitjacket and so has my Family, although they have never been notable for their sartorial splendor, being generally hard to fit or just plain outsize. The little boy has been an Ivy enthusiast since 1912 and will continue to be, I imagine, even after he's grown up. In fact, he'll probably be buried in it like all the rest of us.

James Kelley, Advertising Executive: “The ILL (Ivy League Look) was here BBB (Before Brooks Brothers), and therefore seems obsolescence-proof. Any raiment tic which has withstood the eras of Victoria, Edward, Doughboy, Coolridge, GI, and latter-day Squaredom must have something. The ‘something’ is unpadded honesty, unfrilled comfort, and freedom from guile.

Those narrow ILL shoulders, center vents, and unpleated trousers offer soothing anonymity. ILL will hold firm against side-vented glumness of the BCL (British Continental Look) and remain in favor among canny Madison Avenue where nobody cares to compete with colorful client plumage.”

John Wood, President of Brooks Brothers: “For generations, the Brooks Brothers Look was a byword in the Ivy League colleges, signifying – as it still does today – not only the natural shoulder and other Brooks styling details, but conservative good taste in dressing generally.

That this basic look has recently been ‘discovered’ and named ‘The Ivy Look’ merely illustrates once again that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
That was fascinating. Thanks for posting
 

Phileas Fogg

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Tallulah Bankhead, Actress: I'm an anti-Ivy girl. I'd rather go out with an Indian buck in a blanket or a Moor in a burnoose than with one of those Madison Avenue lemmings. They're so enslaved by conformity that when up and about they all look as if they'd been hacked out by the same die. If they are eager for uniforms, why don't they just enlist in the army?

Clothes can be used to express personality, granted the clothes have any. The Ivy Look boys seem to be trying to conceal their personalities. They'd be well advised to observe the chameleon and reflect on the might of Joseph, the boy with the coat of many colors. The Ivy-Look is a form of cowardice, a confession of defeat, and an offense to the eye. Do I hear a second?
Ms. Bankhead would be blacklisted for those comments in today’s Hollywood.

by the way, someone should have reminded her that those Ivy League types were more than likely the ones who were bankrolling her films.
 

dieworkwear

Mahatma Jawndi
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Ms. Bankhead would be blacklisted for those comments in today’s Hollywood.
Is this going to be your schtick now on the CM side of the forum? You take every discussion about clothing to softly screech about your political hang-ups? Seriously, why did you leave CE, only to post CE type comments in CM? Post CE comments in CE and stick to discussions about clothing in CM.
 

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