The Last Bastian Of Traditional Style

The backstory: Brooks Brothers is ironic. As a flagship merchant for what is perceived to be the upper class, it has been empty-billfolded for a while now. A few owners, then finally, a covid tipping point bankruptcy, followed by a $325 million acquisition by the Authentic Brands Group, and The Sparc Group, in a venture backed by Simon Property Group.  

Earlier this week all those groups announced that they had hired Michael Bastian as Creative Director. He’s been around: he even had his own brand for awhile. For Brooks, he will be the person who will be making the majority of the only decisions that matter. He is clearly good at this. But it leaves us with big questions: where to buy an OCBD, not the last amongst them. Here’s how it might play out. 

Bastian goes to the office and walks past the white board where a list of all the iconic pieces of Brooks are written (I’m not kidding about that). He walks past that board. That list is not on a reminder board because it is front-of-mind. It is on the board so the cheating husband doesn’t forget his anniversary.   

He goes to his office and he designs a sweatsuit. Out of cashmere. And he, I am not kidding about this either, is also fooling around with an icon that has the BB Sheep falling off a pair of skis. He designs that sweatsuit for a company mired in debt. The aforementioned $325 million wasn’t a Christmas present. They want it back. He doesn’t open up an email from the Sparcs group that says, “Hey, we are rededicating our retail and online space to the pieces that got us here.” No, he opens an email from the Sparcs group that says, “Hey the fastest way to get our money back, and maybe then some, is to make sweatsuits. That is what is selling across the mall, which our parent company owns.” So he starts drawing the sweatsuit. It’s going to take a minute. And all the clamoring is, “What’s gonna happen to our white OCBDs?”  So he puts a pink one on and does an interview, where he says, “Oh wait, I remember these.” I’m not kidding about that either. Then he tips his hand. He says in essence, “When I had my brand, when it was my dime, I spent it making things that Brooks didn’t sell. But don’t worry, on the white board in the hall is a reminder. I got your back.”

Now he has the sweatsuit drawn. And now he has to make it. He calls the factory (it’s an overseas call now). He says, “I need you to take everything off the calendar and make me traditional fit white buttondowns.”  Actually, no he doesn’t. He says, “Make me these cashmere sweatsuits. Pronto.” Now, with $325 million on hold, beeping in every 15 minutes, he puts the sweatsuits out. Where are the OCBDs that were on the white board? They are in the back, or the last page of the internet, raising no awareness and selling nada. Then one of two things happens.

The sweatsuits sell, and Sparc gets a down payment back. So more sweatsuits. Second scenarios is the sweatsuits don’t sell. Then the $325 million just became $345 million, and we are short on OCBDs because we didn’t make any while making sweatsuits. Maybe they pivot halfway through. Maybe Bastian calls me. Maybe we actually need a cashmere sweatsuit. But as of this writing, this survival strategy is get everybody who was across the mall and get them in here now. Maybe that bumps the bottom line and maybe it doesn’t. 

What we do know is that it doesn’t clad a new generation in the traditional style. Somebody else will have to do that. While the trad leverage, already on the rim of the toilet bowl, falls in. Kodak, incidentally, is making vaccines after taking a swing at digital currency. And yes, they still make cameras. Somewhere, and not for much longer. — JOHN BURTON

John Burton manages Ivy Style’s Facebook group and is co-founder of Ivy Live, Ivy Style’s spinoff endeavor you’ll be hearing about in 2021. 

17 Comments on "The Last Bastian Of Traditional Style"

  1. “That list is not on a reminder board because it is front-of-mind. It is on the board so the cheating husband doesn’t forget his anniversary.” Cackling.

  2. This is hilariously rich. Ivy Style, which I think we can all admit is Geocities level nostalgia at this point, is getting a spinoff as ‘Ivy Live’. The guy that runs their Facebook group (yeah Facebook, that disinformation cess pool with the occasional pictures of grandkids) is chiding the last guy to successfully run a prep brand for his approach to reviving Brooks Brothers. Because if only they ran more Facebook ads about the collar roll they wouldn’t be in this mess! This isn’t the pot calling the kettle black. It’s not even throwing stones in glass houses. It’s Quibi saying WeWork has a bad business model. Supreme just got sold $2Bn, take that in, and be sure to add a cashmere sweatsuit to your cart along with the 4 OCBDs.

  3. Berkeley – I’m eagerly awaiting your Pulitzer Prize worthy post. When can we expect to see it?

  4. Michael Bastian is exactly the right guy to lead BB forward and revitalize the brand.

  5. Supplementarily, he recently made another post with a truly ancient shirt—so old the placket turns into the French variety halfway down, presumably since it would be covered by a vest (thus no chest pocket, either)!
    https://www.instagram.com/p/CIZG07hDfQ1/
    So even though the one he’s trying on is a 7-button, he’s sure getting a taste of the older stuff (the aforementioned specimen is actually a 5-button!).

    His words about how “right” the fit feels are encouraging—the whole post has a tone of a man discovering the delights of the things we here love. Hopefully that sentiment is expressed in the products produced.

    Maybe he’ll even add a couple inches to his own rise!
    https://www.instagram.com/p/CIUOhDzDp9w/

  6. P.S. The above shirt may actually be an odd construction where, between the regular and French placket halves, it is connected/sewn together (but above and below must be buttoned). It looks that way from the way it drapes from his hands, at least.

    He says they’re compiling a database of the oxford shirt’s evolution with all their measurements, which is a wonderful development. (The above example is an early ’40s model.) I suppose that means they don’t have access to the paper archive warehouses, though, if those do have the old patterns in them (I recall some discussing this question in another post)—either that or the patterns have escaped all knowledge or possession, perhaps even existence.

  7. I was going to disagree with PG’s tone and tenor, I was going to argue that this article — whatever one thinks of Michael Bastian, his track record, and the various possible strategies for revitalizing BB — is at least snappy and interesting and *provocative*, which ought to be worth something, at least, maybe, why not? (Especially if one is commenting on Ivy Style despite thinking it’s mere “geocities nostalgia”). I was going to do that. But then I reread his post and wondered *what in the flying f%@k* the sale of ‘Supreme’ has to do with a *goddamn* thing. I’m genuinely f-ing perplexed — Supreme? Really? — I can’t even imagine the bizarre identity crisis that must be going on; not only reading and following Ivy Style but actually POSTING about (considering it *important* and *relevant*) the sale of *Supreme* as though any one, absolutely anyone (one single f-ing person) who cares anything, whatsoever, one iota, at all, about BB would care, in any way, shape or form, to know how things turned out for ‘Supreme’ as a brand, and might derive any worthwhile information from — might actually *use* some type of *insight* from the experience, business planning, or marketing strategy of — a brand like Supreme to inform any aspect, however small or minute, of any plan, strategy or vision, any sock, tie or, yes, sparkling white f-ing t-shirt, of any possible future incarnation of BB. How could he think that? How could he even *pretend* to know *anything* about BB and at the same time be under that impression? It’s impossible. He couldn’t. PG is a bot created by an AI algorithm whose first line of code put it in a windsor knot. It’s never recovered. The flaw is fundamental.

  8. Ezra Cornell | December 5, 2020 at 2:46 am |

    “But it leaves us with big questions: where to buy an OCBD, not the last amongst them.”
    Really? Really?? Perhaps this will shock some, but there are other wonderful makers worth our support. O’Connell’s and Mercer and Sons deserve at least as much space at IS as the 40-years of whining about BB.

  9. There are still plenty of OCBD’s on the market, by different makers. However, what is becoming almost impossible to find, is a dress shirt with a non stiff regular (not button-down) collar. In an age when comfort is the main priority, and everyone is switching to soft “Neapolitan” tailoring, one would think that “non fused” soft collars should make a comeback. But they aren’t making a comeback. That’s a pity.
    Don’t know if this is news to anybody here, but the BB flagship store will never reopen. This is a disgrace and doesn’t make any sense. It would make more sense for them to close every single store, except the flagship location, but, this is what they decided to do. Again, it’s absurd, as the building is actually owned by Del Vecchio. Why can’t he allow BB to keep renting the space?! Anyway, it’s still a beautiful brand with lots of decent quality products, executed in good taste, such as dress shirts, ties, shoes, some outerwear, sweaters, etc. Tailoring is far from being remarkable in any way though. For just a little more, go with made-to-measure, or, perhaps, buy from Polo Ralph Lauren. If you’re on a budget, by far the best option for affordable, high quality tailoring is Spier and Mackay. They also sell very fine chinos, sweaters, and excellent dress shirts, including some amazing OCBD’s with soft collars and a classic roll.

  10. An appeal to the moderators to spare the readers of the profanity-laced post above and to remove such comments, which are more of an embarrassment to this site than Mr. Bastian will ever be to our formerly beloved and hallowed brand located at 346 Madison Ave. There is little if any call for that tenor among the gentlemen and, especially, the gentlewomen, who read this site, and CERTAINLY no call for the profanity. Have we no vocabularies? Or, is the joke on me and the person who made the post merely pasted in the lyrics of drug-induced rap song? May the community please stand up and demand that this site is better than that?

  11. Absolutely J, my only defense is embedded in the oft-quoted definition of a gentleman: someone who is never rude, except on purpose. I did at least tempter the profanity by not actually typing it out. But frankly, I felt it was warranted. You do realize the post I was responding to a) belittled the very site you are defending and b) — and most egregiously — suggested that BB selling cashmere sweatsuits was fine (“like, get over it dude”) because “Supreme sold for $2B”. My mind recoiled and temporarily absconded. I apologize.

  12. Whoa and, uh, whoa—the cheating husband/anniversary thing. Cackling indeed.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=M2VBmHOYpV8

  13. J

    Oh my! Salty language.

    Cheers

    Will

  14. Sorry it took a while to get back to this, I was busy making my bot rounds. Looks like I struck a nerve and got your bow tie spinning. This site has its place and we’re all here for it, but let’s not pretend like there’s a growing mass market out there to keep this dream alive unless they reinvent. It’s quite obviously hypocritical for a site that is itself evolving to throw shade on a brand that must. Because newsflash, the mall owners that run it don’t give a single solitary duck boot about your tastes when there are other brands they could invest in…brands like Supreme, which attracts a younger demographic, the kind that will eventually spend their cash on cashmere loungewear and may never own a repp tie. You don’t have to love it to know it’s true. And if you do love it, maybe you should hope it evolves to survive.

  15. I very much enjoyed Mr. Burton’s post – as well as his moderation of the Facebook page – and hope against hope that Brooks Brothers will return or – if not – retain some semblance of what we all remember and loved. But I also think Mr. PG has a point – regrettable as it might be. Investors want a large return on their dollar – not to please a group of gentlemen such as are on this page. The very fact that they ceased making traditional fit is telling in itself. As we fight to maintain some semblance of tradition in many aspects of American culture – dressing appropriately being a huge one of them – it almost seems as if a tipping point has occurred. When an 80+ guest pastor at my church removes his tie in order to look relevant or – while he is a pretty good dresser – Joe Biden campaigns in open collar – we should all be glad that Weiner ended ‘Mad Men’ before we had to see Don Draper working four 10s while wearing a size ‘L’ OCBD (or worse yet a polo shirt) with Birkenstocks and non iron Dockers. (I have used that line before on this page.) May Press – Mercer – O’Connell’s – and Spencer thrive – in their desire to reach our readers – as I also cherish my traditional fit Brooks Brothers must-iron oxfords while avoiding starch and professional laundry so that they last as long as humanly possible. [For the punctuation-minded among you – my comma key failed yesterday – hence my repeated use of the dash.]

  16. I found an old stock b2 white oxford cloth shirt (retail price tag was $48) that I am guessing came from the early 90’s – I’m going to get Press/Gitman to make mine up in Macon County, Tennessee!

  17. And here I thought hiring Michael Bastion was an interesting step forward for Brooks Brothers. Not surprised to see this article on here though. Can we all just come to grips with the idea that the traditional ivy style which we all love (or we wouldn’t be on this site) is a small niche market at best and not one that’s growing in leaps and bounds? Perhaps reinventing and updating it may be the only path forward for Brooks Brothers?

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