Time is a funny thing. It’s a lot easier to look backward than forward. Has something to do with the past being real — having actually happened — while the future is indeterminate and isn’t real until it becomes the present.
Brooks Brothers is celebrating its bicentennial this year. It’s incredible, but not impossible, to imagine this singular American institution sprouting into life two centuries ago, just a couple of generations after the founding of this country. What’s beguiling, on the other hand, is imagining what it — or any other aspect of life in what might someday be known as the country formerly known as the USA — might look like in 200 more years.
The precise anniversary of the founding is in April, and a company spokesman said Brooks is keeping mum on what it has planned by way of celebration. But Brooks kicked off the momentous milestone with a coffee-table book released in November. I’ve been sitting on it since before then, but rather than excited about cracking open the cover, I was somewhat dreading it. Brooks Brothers is such a massively larger and different company than it was when it was the chief flag-bearer of traditional American style, that traditionalsists have come to expect disappointment. And really that’s not entirely fair: it’s like holding up a musician to the standard of the genre he once played but plays no more. It can’t be deemed a failure to play bad folk music when one is no longer trying to play folk music. The problem for us is that while the music is different, the old melody lingers on.
Eventually I realized that there is a point of comparison for Brooks’ new book, which is entitled “200 Years Of American Style,” and that’s the 2003 tome “Generations Of Style.” The latter spends much more time on the details of company history and includes many more archival images. The new book shows how much has changed in 15 years under the present ownership (speaking of which, I’ve heard a rumor it might be up for a change). There’s much more focus on the fashion and entertainment side of things. The historic images of Hollywood types, Brooks itself, and various vintage places and people are largely well familiar from other books and the Internet. Whatever exists in the Brooks Brothers archives, which is managed by a full-time employee, we may perhaps come to know someday.
We’ll keep you posted on bicentennial celebrations throughout the year. — CC
Image courtesy of Rizzoli.