What We Are And What We Were: CDV on Bloomberg’s Street Smart


Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio Del Vecchio talks to Bloomberg TV’s “Street Smart” show about the brand’s current business strategy, including the upcoming steakhouse, which he says was inspired by his grandmother’s kitchen.

The hosts’ questions are on point, and include asking Del Vecchio if the more fashionable clothing risks alienating “the traditional East Coast customer.” He replies that the company needs to both have the new as well as “what we’re known for.

“When we made mistakes in the past,” he also says, “it was forgetting the traditional customer we had to try to get a new one.” — CC

39 Comments on "What We Are And What We Were: CDV on Bloomberg’s Street Smart"

  1. He’s wearing a must-iron OCBD. Win.

  2. Sartorial Obamacare! Make money off the trendy to pay for the traditional…

  3. A.E.W. Mason | December 3, 2013 at 8:46 pm |

    In fairness, Brooks has a difficult role to play because it has to be so many things. I was in the Beverly Hills store over the weekend and I was impressed by quite a few of the offerings. Some of the new odd jackets were windowpanes and tweeds made in Italy of Italian fabric. They were beautiful garments I thought and well priced between about $780 and $900 if I recall. There were also some beautiful flannel trousers at between $250 and $450. All of these were in a traditional cut, meaning they were not in that “little boy” style. In any case, I’m just pointing out that it’s still a store that offers some very nice clothes. It’s the stuff that gets all the press that drives most of us nuts.

  4. They saved Southwick.

    Mr. Del Vecchio: Thank you.

  5. God forbid you walk into any BB and utilize their MTM program to create a suit/sport coat/trousers/shirt to your tastes…

    I agree with AEW. Some nice stuff to be had if you sift through it.

  6. Why exactly does Brooks Brothers have to play many roles? Is it not an option to do one thing well?

    Unless I’m missing something, its Little Lord Fauntleroy-inspired lines seem to be relative failures. They’re too expensive for most people to purchase them as a passing fad and too unserious and poorly-made for anyone who cares about dressing well in a traditional way. I assume that’s why these efforts, like Black Fleece, seem to be perpetually discounted.

    Brooks, like every business, has limited resources. In furtherance of its myriad, foundering attempts to attract fashionistas, it necessarily reallocates resources that could be used to improve the products aimed at its traditional customer base.

    It is now the case that Brooks largely offers drab, Chinese-made, chemically-wrinkle-free clothes with baggy 90s proportions and pleats for its obese corporate drone contingency and skintight, feminine cropped cuts for their indulged children. The Clark pant is a great exception to this rule: it is a relatively traditional fit that could work for someone under 50 and would look more out of place in 1992 or 2002 than 1962. Yet Brooks has few other products for which the same can be said–the slim-fit OCBDs being another exception–and I blame this largely on their focus on luring fashion-conscious buyers.

  7. I hear the “Own Make” line–including the 101 model (3b sack) has done well. Southwick made.


  8. The interviewers are talking for him pretty much. Vecchio doesn’t seem to be such a talker

  9. A.E.W. Mason | December 4, 2013 at 6:34 pm |

    I agree that saving Southwick was fortunate to say the least. Under Del Vecchio’s vision for the company it’s not going to return to doing just one thing well, but neither will it ignore its old-line followers. In its present form, Brooks is too large a going concern to do just one thing, say, like O’Connell’s. But the upside of that is that its size and access to capital is what enabled it to save Southwick and the Garland Shirt Company as well.

  10. “It is now the case that Brooks largely offers drab, Chinese-made, chemically-wrinkle-free clothes with baggy 90s proportions and pleats for its obese corporate drone contingency”

    Those folks pay the bills. Those folks make it possible for us to have, for instance, $95 American-made OCBDs that don’t suck and that come in a large range of fits and sizes. (Yes, Mercer’s is lovely, but when you don’t want to wait two months for a shirt, BB is still the next best thing.) Next question?

  11. John R.: One comes to mind: What happens when those people die (which is happening soon/now)? Brooks won’t have the fat codgers who need pleats and pants that hitch under a belly and blazers that graze the knees to pad the bottom line. Their attempts at fashion seem to fall flat, and the nouveau Ivy look seems to be on the way out. What then?

    I work in a large Eastern city and most of the professionals I interact with who are 40 (age and waist size). They don’t. That’s the problem: resources are devoted elsewhere, largely in vain. Selling a smattering of good products doesn’t cure that ill.

  12. @madaket: I’m not seeing what you’re seeing. The two BBs in my area seem to be plenty busy whenever I stop in. The company is privately held so we can’t know for sure, but as near as I can tell, what they are doing seems to be working. And while I have as many complaints about BB as any other trad fan, I have to say that, on balance, I like what I’m seeing now better than I liked what I was seeing 15 years ago, even if there are still too many “Made in China” tags.

  13. Well, unfortunately it looks like a chunk of the middle of my comment got cut out, probably due to my ineptitude. Here’s what I remember of what I wrote:

    John R.: One comes to mind: What happens when those people die (which is happening soon/now)? Brooks won’t have the fat codgers who need pleats and pants that hitch under a belly and blazers that graze the knees to pad the bottom line. Their attempts at fashion seem to fall flat, and the nouveau Ivy look seems to be on the way out. What then?

    I work in a large Eastern city and most of the professionals I interact with who are >40 are well-dressed and spend a good deal of money on clothing, particularly as compared to their Boomer counterparts. They don’t shop at Brooks. Even those who dress Ivy or Ivy-lite. Because Brooks sucks. Largely because Boomers, well, suck.

    Selling a smattering of good products doesn’t change the fact that it’s very hard to buy a decent suit at Brooks Brothers for someone under 40 (age and waist size)–which is, or once was, its ostensible raison d’être. Instead of focusing on that, they’re throwing money out the window hand over fist on failed endeavor after failed endeavor, while greedily expanding into more and more suburban malls. Yes, they continue to service very well one loyal contingency. Great. Those people are on the way out. And yet the new customers Brooks is pursuing to replace them–fashionistas–are not going to be loyal customers, don’t share Brooks’s corporate values, and aren’t willing to pay for quality.

    Still, I would be perfectly happy to wade through waves of Boomer-endorsed elastic waist pants and ballooning shirts and pay market price for OCBDs (and if you believe that they aren’t making money off of those, I have a bridge to sell you) if it were possible for me to outfit myself with a comprehensive professional wardrobe at Brooks for a reasonable price. It isn’t. And I have to believe that it would be feasible for them to do this profitably if it were their priority and they weren’t setting fire to money desperately trying to convince 22 year old GQ readers to buy Harris Tweed iPhone cases or whatever.

  14. John R: I don’t have any serious problem with the style of some of the suits and jackets in their new lines. It’s primarily the fit with which I take issue. It would be impossible to wear most of it in a business setting and be taken seriously. What is the point of making jackets from great Harris tweed if they’re not fit for anyone who has a job or is over 22? And when very few people without jobs or under 22 can afford Harris tweed?

    I don’t have any inside info on the fact that Brooks’s endeavors are failing. But the fact that they continue to add new fits seemingly quarterly, and new lines seemingly annually, all of which are typically marked down to next to nothing at the end of the season, seems to indicate that something is wrong. I also don’t think that theirs is a smart long-term strategy, for reasons that I’ve expounded on for probably far too long already.

  15. Madaket, I don’t quite follow. What exactly (in terms of cut/shape) do you want?

    And I’m curious: where do your well-dressed colleagues shop?

  16. @madaket
    I’m as curious as S.E. What is it exactly that you want from Brooks Brothers? I recently bought their classic sack blazer and a number of their regular fit oxfords. Both blazer and shirts made in USA at what I thought was a reasonable price and to my eyes very good quality indeed. Cut is conservative. Sure, there are some odd things in their lines and I steer clear of the toytown cuts, but they still do some great things.
    Have you tried all of their suit lines?

  17. A.E.W. Mason | December 5, 2013 at 1:47 am |

    @madaket, I echo S.E. and CeeEm.

  18. I don’t think the shirt that Signore Del Vecchio is wearing is a BB product: The placement of the collar buttons is far too distant from the tips of the collar points.

  19. I ask the question in earnest.

    When I think of Brooks style, going all the way back to the early 20th century, I think of the sack suit (jacket), button downed oxfords, repp ties (bold stripes), madras (for summer), shetland and tennis sweaters, and Alden shoes (three or four models). The iconic items.

    Yes, a natural shoulder. But not the Italian (Neapolitan) version. If Ivy could tend in the direction of spalla camicia, Brooks did not. Natural, but not shirtsleeves.

    I don’t think “Ivy.” And, since Brooks, a haven for vested Anglophiles, resisted many of the Ivy Heyday trends (the narrowness especially) throughout the 60s, I am tempted to think “anti-Ivy.”. Which makes the Thom Browne and Red Fleece stuff comically but somehow sadly ironic.

    The very few Brooks repp ties I own that we’re purchased in the 60s are three inches at the blade. No less.

    Where does an Anglophile with an appreciation for the soft tailoring tradition go for off-the-rack kit? Few options. So, back to custom.

    I have a feeling madaket doesn’t want the look for which Brooks was once known.

  20. @madaket — I’m also confused when you talk about not being able to find something at BB if you are “under 40 (age and waist size)”. I recently bought a charcoal grey suit, size 41 R, Fitzgerald cut, which comes with 35″ pants I had altered to 34″. It’s a decent, serviceable suit that fits well. I don’t see the problem.

    (I agree with you about their new lines, but hope they do what they say and try to keep a range of customers happy. *And* hope that they understand they need to revive the make and dimensions of the OCBD!)

  21. I mean what I said: I don’t think Brooks Brothers currently offers a comprehensive, quality professional wardrobe for its non-Boomer customer base. Yes, they still sell a decent sack blazer and good OCBDs and competent, but definitely not high-quality, ties. A business wardrobe that does not make.

  22. What is “non Boomer customer base”?

    I would guess there’s more than one such customer base. Probably dozens.

    Are you claiming that many if not most of the under-40 crowd want slim-fitting clothing?

    It would be interesting to offer some sort of questionnaire regarding Brooks’ history–which era one identifies with (in terms of style, cut, cloth, accessories, etc.)

  23. @madaket

    Who does offer, in your view, a comprehensive, quality business wardrobe? I’m not at all arguing for any particular place. Just curious.

  24. Georgia Coal | December 5, 2013 at 6:46 pm |

    @madaket BB doesn’t offer a comprehensive professional wardrobe?? Where do you work? At the trad/ivy/wasp fashion inspection institute?This is just silly. Just go somewhere else. Good Lord. Brooks is great. Do they do everything exactly like people who argue on menswear blogs prefer? Of course not. But for the average guy it’s great stuff. Everybody gets so bent out of shape about Brooks but most still shop there….it hilarious.

  25. A.E.W. Mason | December 5, 2013 at 8:37 pm |

    “Where do you work? At the trad/ivy/wasp fashion inspection institute?”

    That was quite funny. Thank you. By the way, all this made me curious about “Own Make 101.” If you look at BB’s website, it’s shown on the model as a very slim-fitting suit. Clearly, the beer-bellied-boomer (whoever he is) is not the target client for this garment. However, the proportions of the suit itself look as if one could achieve a more relaxed and softer look simply by buying a size larger.

  26. I will confess up-front that I am a heretic in this crowd in that I like the Trad look but not the Trad fit. Further, when it comes to tailored clothes, I go English, not Ivy. I’ve never understood the fetish for billowing, ill-fitting shirts, sweaters that make one look 20 pounds heavier, or suits that not only don’t flatter the body but actually go out of the way to make one appear as it they have no physique at all. But of course, tastes are subjective so I have little interest in evangelizing.

    The point is that Brooks obviously has me in mind (among others) when they design their product line. I’m 50, in excellent shape, have plenty of money to spend on clothes, and dress conservatively (even Trad as far as an affinity for Shetlands, tweed, flannel, Alden’s, etc; classic mens style). But they hit and miss for me.

    The avalanche of non-iron shirts annoys me for the same reason it annoys most of you. The Black Fleece line (save the shirts) is cartoonish. The ties are of mediocre quality in general. Their suits are boring and limited (where’s the chalk stripes – the windowpanes – the strong glen plaids – the heavy flannels and worsteds – tweeds – blues other than dark navy?). The sport coats are substantially better but the lines are limited. The icons all over much of their casual wear is a turn-off (I hate being a walking billboard).

    But they deliver when it comes to most of their sweaters. Their trousers are fine. Outerwear is solid. And surprisingly enough, their new Red Fleece shirts – although of somewhat poor quality fabric – are cut spectacularly (for me anyway) in many classic styles (gingham everywhere). And all at good prices (I usually spend more per item elsewhere) given what they’re selling. Probably because much is – yes – made in China. But I’ve never seen a good argument for why I should think that this and this alone suggests poor quality.

    I agree that a lot of what they sell is garish. But a lot is not. I don’t mind; I’m fully capable of separating wheat from chaff on my own.

    While I shop from many – and I spend plenty on clothes – I find that I have more Brooks staples than any other brand. And by the way, I always ask the salesmen when I go into a Brooks (I travel for business a lot) how the Black Fleece line is selling. They always tell me that it’s a big money maker for them. Could be just happy sales talk, but if they were losing money on these niche lines as many of you seem to suspect, presumably, they would discontinue them. They don’t. And they continue to roll out new lines, which should tell you something.

  27. Southern Loafer | December 6, 2013 at 7:28 am |

    J. Taylor just nailed it. I agree completely with his assessment. In particular, “While I shop from many – and I spend plenty on clothes – I find that I have more Brooks staples than any other brand.”

  28. @J. Taylor

    Take a look at this:


    That jacket in the first pic–the sketched jacket on the mannequin. Now, that’s mid-century Brooks style. Some tracing through the middle, but no noticeable front darts. The shoulder is natural but substantial; the lapel rolls gently to the second button. The length is revealing. Southwick Cambridgeesque.

    The No. 1 Sack. The best of English and American styling.


  29. Am I the only one who thinks that Signore Del Vecchio’s OCBD shirt is not a Brooks Brothers product?

  30. J. Taylor, you’re not as much of a heretic as you might think. I’m 46 and I like a little room in my shirts (BB’s slim fit is just right for me, extra-slim a little too Not Quite The Thing, and I’m very slowly trial-and-erroring with the goal of getting something similar out of Mercer’s), but otherwise I’m with you on just about all of your points. The Trad look, and the Trad quality, but not the fit. Just so. And I agree with much of your assessment of BB’s line as it is today. But I will note that the suiting (and shirting) selection expands *greatly* when one explores MTM, and I encourage you to at least ask your local BB to let you look through the swatch books. The price premium vs their better OTR stuff is fairly modest.

    I was in an Acela car (NYC to Boston) last night that was filled with reasonably well-dressed mid-career professionals (ages 35 to 55, say). Lots and lots of no-iron shirts on the men, including quite a few with the very recognizable current BB button-down collar. (And then there was me, in my somewhat rougher looking blue must-iron BB OCBD and Jack Donnelly khakis.) They sell because they look good enough and don’t require much fuss. And every BB has huge stacks of them because every BB is probably selling tons of them.

    madaket (I confess that every time I see your chosen nickname I’m tempted to start calling myself “munnatawket” here, just to be an ass), I still think that you are off base, or that you have a funny idea of what constitutes a “professional wardrobe”, or of what it’s like to be a professional over 40 years of age, or something. For the record, and because perhaps your stereotypes need to be challenged, I am 46 as I said, I am exactly six feet tall, I wear 34″ pants and a 42″ or 43″ jacket, and I can wear any of BB’s pant fits save the Milano without looking or feeling like a tool. (Yes, even Elliot… I recently acquired a pair of Elliot-fit cords by accident. It’s a full cut, very like the BB cords I bought 15 years ago back when the choices were “plain” or “pleats”, but they look great. They do not make me look fat.) I’m not a little guy, and I’m no longer a skinny guy, but I’m definitely not a fat guy, despite being over 40, and there are many, many guys shaped more or less like me with the means and willingness to pay BB prices out there. I’m quite sure the folks running BB know what they’re doing, and I’m quite sure they’re posting decent profits nowadays.

  31. Compare the Brooks sack circa 1950 as seen in the pic (sketch) with this jacket, a circa 2012 Brooks Brothers (by Southwick) Cambridge:


    Credit: OxfordClothButtonDown.

    I’ve hypothesized that Brooks went way back into the archives for the Cambridge design.

    As an aside, Isn’t the Andover model a version of the Plymouth?

  32. Minimalist: It sure looks like a $95 must-iron BB OCBD from here, albeit one that has been washed enough times to soften the collar. What makes you think otherwise?

  33. At the risk of repeating myself: From the perspective of me, a <40 professional working in a major city, Brooks Brothers is a glut of horrible product. It offers lots of clothing (non-iron, pleated, oversized, etc etc) designed for its existing customer base of professionals who started shopping there 20+ years ago, when ballooning proportions and innovation through chemical finishes were all the rage. Those people have lots to choose from! Brooks also offers lots of clothing (Own Make, Milano fit, extra-slim-fit, Black Fleece) designed specifically for the very young, nouveau-prep, fashion-oriented consumer. But that market is fickle, doesn't care that much about Brooks's history or brand, will move on, and isn't willing to pay for quality.

    (Side note: Black Fleece is not a financial success. I worked in the industry in BF's early years, and it wasn't a success then; its "success" now is evidenced by the regular steep markdowns and the fact that it is one of the only non-346 products available at Brooks outlets. It wasn't actually ever intended to be a profit driver, anyway–just to attract attention to what was perceived as a stodgy brand. Something so niche couldn't ever make a significant dent in Brooks's bottom line.)

    Do I think the Fitzgerald-cut stuff is good? Yes, it looks good. It's also $700 for a made-in-China sport coat. Could the quality still be decent? Perhaps! Do I really want to pay $700 for a made-in-China sport coat to test that proposition? No! Do I think Brooks could reallocate resources to made significant improvements in its product offerings and quality? Yes! Do I think it makes business sense for it to do so? Yes! Do I think it's cutting quality and raising prices to subsidize its massive expansion and its attempts to attract trendsetters? Yes!

    I'm sure there were people years ago when LL Bean began expanding, dropping quality, moving production to China, putting chemicals on clothing, and greatly expanding its product offerings who were convinced it was a great move, too.

  34. @John R

    The placement of the collar buttons/button holes is far too distant from the tips of the collar points for a BB shirt, and the collar spread is too wide.

  35. @madaket

    What you say is sad but true: they are not willing to pay for quality.

  36. The idea that Brooks was “with it” way back when isn’t confirmed by history.

    Take a look:


    There is mention in this 1950 of Brooks’ “prep” offerings. The “unswerving devotion” to “tradition” inspired the “old-line patrons” to return, always careful to notice aberrations. Brooks was “emphatic in its refusal to keep face with current sartorial fads.”

    The last two paragraphs merit attention–the Tyrone Power-Brooks dialogue.

    The picture referenced in the story–of the 1914 Wiffenpoofs–may very well have been this:


  37. Sandy Bryant | December 7, 2013 at 6:49 pm |

    Black Fleece is a bust. It’s been pulled from most retail stores due to the fact that it’s targeted by urban dwelling shoplifters.

    OCBDs, a few blazers and suits by Southwick are the only decent things that are left. Alden shoes are still clutch as well. The dress trousers these days are pure Asian made garbage.

    Del Vechio is a self-obsessed tyrant burning his father’s money.

    People just need to move on.

  38. @ S.E.

    About Brooks being “emphatic in its refusal to keep face with current sartorial trends”: Someone at Brooks on Madison Ave. explained to me many years ago that their policy was never to be either first or last to adapt to shifts in style. Thus no fads, only adjustments. That one’s gone, isn’t it.

    @ Sandy Bryant

    You could be right about the “tyrant burning his father’s money,” but my impression from the video was more of someone who didn’t have a lot of initiative and was probably taking bad advice from others.

  39. @madaket — You say that Brooks offers “lots of clothing (non-iron, pleated, oversized, etc etc) designed for its existing customer base of professionals who started shopping there 20+ years ago, when ballooning proportions and innovation through chemical finishes were all the rage.” This is most assuredly false. The professionals who started shopping there 20+ years ago, and I count myself among them, are the ones who for the last decade have been expressing frustration with their current direction! And the comment about chemical finishes? Hey, it’s not the old-timers who are buying that garbage, it’s the current generation. We’ve all moved on to Mercer.

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