Last evening I was taking a golf lesson at Brooks Brothers when a vacationing gentleman stopped by to check out the high-tech simulator.
By a happy accident it turned out to be a former executive for Marks & Spencer, the English department-store chain that bought Brooks in 1988 and went about dismantling it, starting with the staircase.
The gent was one of the M&S guys who was sent to New York to manage Brooks. When I told him I would be very interested in interviewing him, specifically noting with a wry smile that my readers consider Marks & Spencer the devil incarnate, he didn’t exactly say yes but he didn’t say no either. His wife encouraged him but perhaps he’s enjoying his retirement and would rather talk about golf. He has my card, so we’ll see.
He did, however, offer a gentle defense of Marks & Spencer’s strategy at the time by saying that there was a joke among the management team that whenever a hearse went by they’d say, “There goes another customer.” They believed they were losing customers faster than they were being replaced and had to do something to save the company. Their efforts failed, of course, and they ended up selling the company at a loss.
The gentleman, who resides in London and was visiting New York for the holidays, did offer one more interesting anecdote. In the ’80s there was still plenty of old-school snobbery among the sales staff, he said, who wouldn’t wait on somebody if he didn’t look right. One particular guy, who was “fat and sweaty,” eventually took his case all the way to the company president, saying that he wanted to be a Brooks customer but never felt welcomed in the store. The president ended up waiting on him personally and the man turned out to be the company’s number-one customer, spending tens of thousands of dollars annually.
Snooty salespeople are more charming in theory than practice, and I’m very happy to have a regular guy on the third floor to ring up my purchases. He knows my name and always has a friendly smile, even when I just pop in to grab the driver and make a bunch of noise. — CC
When madras season officially opened on Memorial Day, we ran a post showing George HW Bush clad in a madras sportcoat in company that wasn’t exactly wearing the same (can you imagine Obama or Romney doing that in 2012?) Now that July 4th marks our deeper descent into madras, this time we show the fabric in an equally unexpected context: on the backs of British pop stars. (Continue)
Update, 3 July, 10:04 AM:
Last night Ivy Style crossed the 10,000-comment threshold with these infamous words that will echo across America this summer as families pile up the station wagon and head out on the road:
Are we there yet?
The comment was left by none other than regular reader Henry, who will finally be rewarded for years of faithful interaction.
Leave one more comment with your real email address, Henry, so I can make sure the IP addresses match. Wouldn’t want the loot to go to one of your sparring partners pretending to be you. — CC
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Ivy-Style.com is rapidly approaching its 10,000th comment. As a way of saying thank you for the interaction and entertainment that our comments section provides, I’m arranging for one lucky reader to get a pile of loot donated by our sponsors.
Here’s how it will work. Sometime over the next couple of weeks — depending on how worked up you guys get — we’ll cross the ten thousand threshold. The person to leave comment number 10,000 — after all spam and petty nastiness has been expunged, of course — wins.
So you might want to leave a valid email address when you comment, at least for the time being.
And while it’s true that the winner may be one of the usual suspects in our perennial Left vs. Right and US vs. UK kerfuffles, at least everyone has an equal chance of winning, regardless of ideology.
After all, anyone can wear buttondowns and penny loafers. — CC
Update: Here is a confirmed alphabetical list of the prizes so far, which have a combined value of $1,425: (Continue)
To those who complain that slim-fit shirts are evidence of Brooks Brothers having lost its way, the brethren have offered them for at least 25 years, as this late ’80s catalog shows.
In general, WASPy preppy types have preferred a generous cut to their clothing, and the sack suit got its name for a reason. But “Take Ivy” shows that the Ivy League Look had plenty of streamlined cuts in keeping with the general fashion of the early ’60s.
So shirts that actually fit — especially slender guys — may be a tad less tradly but certainly aren’t heresy. — CC
Note: This post was composed by a slender guy with a diplomatic temperament wearing a full-cut oxford under a fitted pink sweater.
We always consider it newsy when Ethan up at O’Connell’s digs up some deadstock items that have been buried for decades.
Earlier this summer, in an act of unselfishness, Ethan decided to start sharing his special hoard of Troy Guild shirts from the early ’80s. These aren’t your typical oxford-cloth buttondowns: The shirts are made from luxurious Sea Island cotton and are priced at $245 a pop.
Ethan tells us the following:
Troy Guild made these in Glens Falls, NY. This Sea Island cotton was superior to the stuff that was out there through the ’90s. It wasn’t regulated, and most of it tended to originate from the Middle East. It was a shorter staple cotton, closer to a thin Egyptian cotton.
The good Sea Island cotton from the early ’80s came from the West Indies and was a much finer and longer staple strain of cotton. It hasn’t been made in Sea Island for around 80 years, give or take.
Anyway, these are really fantastic new old-stock shirts. I’ve known of these for a long time but haven’t dug into them much — except to stock my own closet.
There are about 100 shirts remaining, so grab them while you can. As with most things, they don’t make them like they used to. — CC
August 26th marked the 25th anniversary of the so-called “Preppie Murder.”
In 1986, Robert Chambers, a former student of Choate Rosemary Hall, left the Upper East Side bar Dorrian’s Red Hand with 18-year-old Jennifer Levin, whom he later strangled in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum.
The story became a tabloid sensation, was eventually made into a television movie, and earned Chambers the nickname The Preppie Killer.
Earlier this week NBC News remembered the crime, writing:
They were fleeting friends, Chambers and Levin, not a couple. Two prep school kids from New York’s affluent Upper East Side, who made their way to Central Park after meeting up at Dorian’s Red Hand, a bar popular with Manhattan’s young and privileged.
During the trial and the investigations that led up to it, Chambers was exposed as a thief who stole from many people, including a teacher at an elite private school that expelled him. It was also revealed that he had a serious drug habit since the age of 14.
After initially denying involvement in Levin’s death, Chambers later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 15 years. Several years after his release he was convicted of selling cocaine and is currently serving a 19-year sentence.
Dorrian’s, still known for its preppy crowd, has remained notoriously associated with the crime ever since. — CC
We’re halfway to Labor Day, so if you’ve been neglecting your seersucker jacket, now’s the time to start wearing it all the time — even while riding the bike you stole from the new dork in school.
After all, doesn’t this model from Rugby’s website remind you of someone?
Click “continue” to see his pop-culture predecessor. — CC (Continue)