Sailing New Seas: Brooks Brothers In Newport & Palm Beach

Mon 18 Jun 2012 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,Historic Images — Christian
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You may have received an email from Brooks Brothers recently that made a passing references to the company’s first stores outside of New York. It was enough for me to stop and take notice, because those other locations were not other bastions of the eastern establishment, such as Boston, Philadelphia or Washington, DC, but the playgrounds of New York’s elite: Newport and Palm Beach.

I thought it interesting that before Brooks went after other urban communities as purveyor of dress suitable for politicians, attorneys and captains of industry, it went after the captains of yachts.

Brooks opened in Newport in 1909 and Palm Beach in 1924, and didn’t begin catering to proper Bostonians until 1928.

Here’s a passage from the Brooks Brothers book “Generations of Style:”

Despite being over 100 years old and immensely successful, Brooks Brothers had always seemed uninterested in expanding outside Manhattan. Prior to the Twenties, the company had established only one outpost, a seasonal operation in Newport, opened in 1909. Not much is made of it in any Brooks literature, but one suspects that the store was never intended to make much money. Rather, the Newport shop served as a kind of Traveler’s Aid for the yachting set: always at the ready with a pair of white flannels when a misfortune beside the Vanderbilt’s pool rendered a previous pair inoperable. At any rate, a few years later, as changing taste and more rapid travel options prompted the Newport set to season farther afield, Brooks decamped as well. A second seasonal operation opened in Palm Beach, FL, in December 1924; the Depression prompted its demise in 1933.

I asked Brooks if they had any images of these first two shops outside New York, and they sent these over. The top image is from 1924, while the two below are from ’34.

The second one makes note of Brooks’ traveling representatives whose territory included many prep schools and colleges, but only east of the Mississippi. — CC (Continue)

Brooks Outfitted Gatsby Cast

Thu 7 Jun 2012 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,Film — Christian
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Today Brooks Brothers announced that it was the official clothier of Baz Luhrmann’s “Great Gatsby” adaptation, which opens December 25.

Under the direction of costume designer Catherine Martin, Brooks created more than 500 outfits for the male principals and extras.

Women’s Wear Daily has an ungated feature on the collaboration complete with slideshow.

Below is the press release in its entirely. No word yet if there will be a Gatsby clothing collection available in retail stores. — CC

(New York, NY – June 7, 2012) – Brooks Brothers, the iconic American brand founded in 1818, partners with Warner Bros. and Bazmark to be the official men’s clothier for Baz Lurhmann’s highly anticipated Warner Bros. film The Great Gatsby, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 literary classic.

Brooks Brothers, America’s oldest apparel retailer, has collaborated with two-time Academy Award-winning costume and production designer Catherine Martin to produce more than 500 evening and day ensembles as costumes for the male principal and background casts.

Catherine Martin worked closely with the brand’s archivist, designers and merchants to research Brooks Brothers’ history, studying artifacts popular during the 1920s as well as specific merchandise introduced by the brand to America. Ms. Martin has interpreted this historical research to create a look that both encapsulates the Jazz Age but also specifically addresses the storytelling needs of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

“Fitzgerald was a Brooks Brothers customer. It is this most basic and fundamental connection that has made our collaboration so authentic. Brooks Brothers is mentioned numerous times in Fitzgerald’s writings as a representation of the ultimate gentleman’s purveyor of fine clothing to the American man of distinction,” stated Catherine Martin. “Over the years, Brooks Brothers has also defined the collegiate style – the preppy look – which was so close to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Princeton heart. The same look was described in The Great Gatsby by narrator, Nick Carraway, as his look of choice the first time he visits Gatsby’s mansion for one of his neighbor’s extraordinary parties: ‘Dressed up in white flannels I went over to his lawn a little after seven, and wandered around rather ill-at-ease among swirls and eddies of people I didn’t know – though here and there was a face I had noticed on the commuting train.’ For all these reasons, Brooks Brothers seemed the obvious partner to work with on the creation of the men’s wardrobe for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.”

The Brooks Brothers archives from the 1920s revealed innovative designs mixing textured fabrics and patterns that were reinterpreted by Catherine Martin for the characters of Jay Gatsby (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire) and Tom Buchanan (played by Joel Edgerton). The Brooks Brothers costumes range from formalwear to daywear – tuxedos, tailored suits, suiting separates (sport coats, waistcoats and trousers), shirts, ties, shoes and accessories.

“Catherine Martin’s costumes bring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s world to life,” said Brooks Brothers Chairman and CEO Claudio Del Vecchio. “She truly has redefined the menswear of the Roaring Twenties with her creativity, attention to detail, and passion for the era. We are proud to be a part of this unique project and to have had the opportunity to work with such a visionary team.”

 

Golden Years: Christmas During World War II

Thu 22 Dec 2011 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,The Golden Years by Richard Press — Christian
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As a follow-up to Christian’s Hanukkah post, Richard Press authors this year’s Christmas post.

During World War II, Yale professors still wore tweeds, but the boys they taught would soon graduate into khaki. Behind Woolsey Hall are the many rows of names of the boys who never came back.

My father, Paul Press, was a riveter who made M-70 rifles at the Winchester factory on Dixwell Avenue in New Haven. His brother Irving ran the PX store at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. My grandfather assisted the war effort overseeing custom-tailored uniform orders for candidates at the Officer’s Training School at Yale. J. Press was on a wartime footing along with the rest of America. The Princeton store was closed in 1942 when the entire staff joined the army. Civilian business necessarily diminished with shortages of inventory and customers during the war years.

My prescient grandfather prepared for the European conflict in the late ’30s and loaded up all available English goods before the start of war in September, 1939. Cases of Welch, Margretson shirts and ties, Twin Steeples hosiery, Druhmohr Shetland sweaters and Locke hats occupied all the space in the basement.

I was six years old in 1944 when grandfather Jacobi set up chairs and blankets for us to watch the Christmas Day Parade on the balcony in front of his office of the J. Press store on York Street. The wartime spectacle offered a key spot to view the brigades of Sherman tanks and armored vehicles clanking their treads towards the rally downtown for speeches and songs later on the New Haven Green. Soldiers, Sailors and Marines blared their bugles and beat the drums in military cadence to “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.” The back of the parade featured All-America Yale Football Captain Paul Walker, the Dink Stover and Frank Merriwell of his time, riding on top of a Ford truck garbed in a Santa Claus suit and beard, both a part of and yet removed from the instuments of war. He directed his Winston Churchiil “V for Victory” salute right to me on the balcony.

Spiffed up in the army uniform my grandfather gave me for Christmas, I returned the salute standing stiffly at attention until the grand old flag finally passed me by. When I got home I couldn’t wait to turn on the Victrola to play my favorite Spike Jones record: “When The Fuhrer Says He Is The Master Race, Sieg Heil (flatulate), Sieg Heil (flatulate), Right In The Fuehrer’s Face!” — RICHARD PRESS

 

Golden Years: Anything Goes in New Haven

Mon 13 Jun 2011 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,The Golden Years by Richard Press — Christian
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Last night the Broadway revival of “Anything Goes,” which had received nine Tony nominations, ended up winning three. As I watched, I couldn’t help but remember one of the great historical anecdotes of J. Press: The time my grandfather Jacobi helped the musical’s composer Cole Porter evade the New Haven police.

During a 1912 football game at Yale Field, just across the street from where the Yale Bowl was being constructed and would open the following year, Cole Porter joined the band for the halftime march down the field to introduce his new song, “Bulldog, Bulldog, Bow Wow Wow, Eli Yale.” By the time the game was over, Porter and his Delta Kappa Epsilon band of brothers were well lubricated and spotted a Chapel Street trolley passing the stadium. Porter gave the cry: “Hijack!”

A “Keystone Kop” chase ensued to York Street, when Porter leaped out of the trolley and ran to J. Press next to the DKE house where my grandfather hid him in the store cellar until the coast cleared.

Jacobi Press and Cole Porter are both long gone, but a commemorative line has stayed in “Anything Goes” since it first opened in 1932. In one scene, standing on a set designed to be the deck of an ocean liner, the romantic lead throws a stuffed animal to his drunk boss, who is heading for the Henley Regatta to cheer for Yale. “Here, Boss,” he says, “I got you the bulldog at J. Press.”

The following year Cole Porter, along with fellow Yalie Dean Acheson, roomed together at Harvard Law School. Porter eventually abandoned law to return to music, but years later, while serving as Secretary of State in the Truman administration, Acheson, who was renowned for his elegance, was featured in a LIFE Magazine half-page portrait that noted his clothes were from J. Press.

In closing, it’s worth looking at the lyrics of “Anything Goes”:

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows, anything goes!

Campus shenanigans have certain come a long way since Porter highjacked a trolley. “The world has gone mad” indeed. — RICHARD PRESS

Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi Press. A graduate of Dartmouth, he worked at the family business from 1959-1991, ultimately serving as president. He also spent four years as president and CEO of FR Tripler. He lives in Connecticut.

 

Gommy, Forgotten Campus Shop of Penn and Princeton

Thu 12 May 2011 - Filed under: 1920s-'40s,Historic Images — Christian
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Recently I purchased a 1926 yearbook for my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and was pleasantly surprised to see a Brooks Brothers advertisement on the first page of the ad section. Flipping through, I also discovered ads for a few local establishments, including a campus menswear shop called Gommy. It seemed like Gommy may have been for Penn and Princeton what J. Press was for Yale. My interest piqued, I began searching for details on the history of the store.

I was not able to find much at all, however. Menswear expert Bruce Boyer, former J. Press president Richard Press, and trad guru David Wilder were unable to provide any details about Gommy. The one solid piece of information I was able to find on this Philadelphia shop was a quote from B. Franklin Reinauer II, a gentleman who graduated from Penn in 1938. He provides some details on Gommy as well as the general menswear retail environment at the time:

There were some good men’s clothing stores: Gommy’s on Woodland Avenue Street just below 36th Street, and Sox Miller on Spruce Street just above 36th Street. People from men’s clothing stores in other cities would travel from college to college campuses get a room in a hotel or elsewhere to show their clothing to students and hopefully make some sales. Student representatives at different schools tried to get students to come to see the clothes.

Reinauer goes on to recount what campus wear was like during his college years:

When we students went to our classes each day we were dressed in slacks, tweed jacket, shirts [many with button down collars] and ties. There was a fine shoe shine place on Spruce Street just above 36th Street where our cordovan shoes were shined to perfection. We wore coats and fedora hats, too. Those students who were members of the football or other team sometimes wore their sweaters with “P” emblazoned.

Oh, how the Ivies have fallen. (Continue)

 
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