Bastian’s First At Bat

Michael Bastian

Is a home run.  Why a home run?  He rolled the cuffs, and no socks.

Kidding.  Kinda.

Michael Bastian and Brooks Brothers gave the first look yesterday,  less of a collection and more of a message, and it is a brilliant one.  And I was the first one out of the gate screeching that tee shirts with pictures of sheep were the last bubbles out of the air tank.  I was right, too.  If he had stuck with that.

Thank you Universe, he did not.

We must now take a breath before examination.  I was tagged in a post on the FB group about this collection of images, the context of which was that Bastian and designer Ken Ohashi had their cuffs rolled and no socks.  Congratulations all around.  Then came the reviews.  And I wrote – before you criticize, you have to determine what a win would look like.  Bastian’s no-win looks like this:  if he had heavily innovated then the feedback would be that he messed with an institution, next nail in the coffin, and so forth.  In fact, that was some of the feedback.  If he did nothing new under the sun, then the feedback would be that he had done nothing to reinvigorate a dying aesthetic, next nail in the coffin, and so forth.  In fact, that was some of the feedback.

Bastian found the win in the no win.

Looks from Brooks Brothers RTW Fall 2021 by Michael Bastian.

He divided the message into two parts.  First, to the younger customer, he said:  don’t worry.  You won’t look exactly like your parents.  Even though looking like your parents is a little bit of the point.  He introduced enough formality to make the distinction, enough casual to recognize what year it is.   Is this a new look?  Yes and No.  No, it isn’t a massive innovation that is unlike any flavor you have ever tasted.   Yes, though.  Swivel your head.  This demo doesn’t dress like this.  To them, it IS a new look.  Which is also a little bit of the point.

Looks from Brooks Brothers RTW Fall 2021 by Michael Bastian.

Then is turned his head to speak to the customer with history with the brand.  And said this – here are two guys, your age, who have most every staple covered.  Khaki.  White ocbd.  Jeans.  Navy and white pallette.

Thanks fellas, cuffs and no socks duly noted 🙂

That’s not an accident.  It’s a strategy – and exactly the right one.  Fish with the biggest net.  Lament the loss of the tie?  No problem.  Here –

Looks from Brooks Brothers RTW Fall 2021 by Michael Bastian.

Want to see the whole spectrum in one shot?  No problem.  Here –

You have to keep this in mind.  When a company is bought and sold, just once but in BB’s case more than once, they enter another business.  Brooks is clothes, but equally or as importantly, Brooks is in the debt servicing business.  Whatever price is paid for the company, that has to be repaid.  It is as important as any other directive.  And the way you do that is the way that Bastian has done that.  You, smartly, work the room making sure you speak to every guest without getting bogged down in a long conversation with any of them.  They will have a decent time at this cocktail party, and they will come to the next.  And when you invite them to dinner, they will be more likely to RSVP yes to that as well.

I can’t speak to quality – I haven’t even physically seen any of the collection yet.  I can’t speak to fit.  I can’t speak to how wide a range we are looking at here.  But what I can tell you is that you do not resurrect a brand with a Hail Mary new product.  Can it be done?  Of course.  Do you want to try it?  Of course not.  What you do, if you can secure the time and bandwidth to do it, is you settle things down, first.  Repour the foundation.

In a few months, Bastian, and the rest of us, will know what did and didn’t work.  Then he can call the next play.  With this collection, he has, in an environment where you walk out of Grand Central and see an empty shell, he has at least insured there will be a next play.

JB

47 Comments on "Bastian’s First At Bat"

  1. How Ghastly.

    To what do you refer? – JB

  2. If you are saying ” Well it could have been a lot worse”, I agree.

  3. I can’t quite embrace the concept of the French tuck. Either your shirt is tucked in, or it isn’t. But the people pictured STILL look more presentable than 90+% of John and Joan Q. Public in 2021. I’d definitely purchase some of these items were my drawers and closet not already too full.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

  4. Nicely-written, non-hyperventilating piece about what the most venerated (and recently derided) Trad shop is doing. I’m not a marketing guy, but the analogy to the cocktail party seemed really apt.

    And, without getting into underlying subject matter too much, the images provided seemed to support the author’s thesis: Bastian stops by the old tweedy group at the cocktail party (that would be us) and shares a scotch or bourbon; but he also has a beer (spiked seltzer?) with the youngsters who aren’t ready for the old guy tweed yet, but wouldn’t have attended in the first place if they weren’t hoping something special.

    Final note: the saddest, most post-modern phrase (esp. for an old Chapter 11 guy like me), was that Brooks is really in the debt-servicing business. Ouch. But like all things, it only stings because it’s true.

  5. Charlottesville | September 1, 2021 at 10:06 am |

    These photos remind me of recent Polo collections, down to the giant horse on the sweater, of which I am not a fan. The women’s blue tweed looks good and some other individual pieces are okay, even if worn in the odd combinations typical of fashion shoots. The kid in the duffel coat and sweater looks age-appropriate, and the outfit is much like what I wore in my 20s.

    As Heinz-Ulrich points out, this is much better than most contemporary college kids dress, or adults for that matter. It will be interesting to see what the real products are like once they are on the shelves. That being said, I remain thankful for J. Press and am looking forward to their Fall Brochure.

  6. Richard E. Press | September 1, 2021 at 10:23 am |

    Correction–When you walk out of Grand Central the first thing you see is J. Press at the Yale Club on the corner of Vanderbilt & 44th, the once and forever illumination of Ivy Style.

  7. Well stated Paul. Totally agree.

  8. This is not difficult, gents. Really.

    Call Norman Hilton–in Princeton. Ask to see the Lovat Mill cloth. Or the W. Bill (still going, thanks to Harrisons). He’ll make a custom jacket for you–around $800. USA-made. Repeat: USA-made. natural shoulder, hook vent, 3-button, narrow lapels. The goods. J. Press could use them, but, for whatever reason (loyalty to the Canadian company??), they don’t.

    If you want an oxford, he’ll suggest Gambert or Individualized. You can get several MTM shirts — a better value than Mercer and the oxford is the hefty, beefy throwback (that’s better, IMO, than Supima).

    This is easy. We do NOT need designers. Repeat: we do NOT need designers. They make a lot of $ telling us what’s happenin’ now.

    Call Nick. If Jennifer picks up the phone, ask for Nick. This is easy. Ivy, including the old Norman Hilton Hampton specs (“papers”) is happen’ now.

    If you want Irish Poplin or wool challis, he can get it for you.

    Say NO to designers.
    Haven’t we had enough?

    This is great. For the first 38 people who want to dress Ivy. After that, if you don’t have designers, I hope you can wait, I dunno, how long can you wait? Designers are INTEGRAL to the process. (1) neither you, nor I, have thought of everything there is to think of. (2) If the aesthetic is to survive it has to evolve. Kinda like everything else. If it is going to evolve, that doesn’t mean a radical departure. But it does mean new ideas. What are those new ideas? No idea. That’s what designers are for. (3) Are you wearing sackcloth? No? Thank a designer. Seriously though, I think your point is that the wheel does not need to be reinvented. And I agree. But it can always be improved. Ask the Flintstones. – JB

  9. Our style/look transcends stores. It was around before J. Press, Langrock, Rosenberg and their campus imitators– and it’ll be around decades from now, long after the old horses have been put down, when/where tradition-tending (value for $) retailers continue to offer MTM. Full circle, right? Once upon a time, the campus shops focused on custom. We’re there again.

  10. Michael Bastian is exactly the right designer to modernize the BB look. I like his work and the pieces that he is creating. I thought Zac Posen was brilliant on women’s clothing – not sure why they took him out. Michael is doing a good job and I look forward to seeing what is next – especially with oxford button down shirts.

  11. As usual, I agree with Paul. And, more importantly, the article. In this era of tedious wokeness and virtual signaling, I’m tired of the purist shouting from both sides of the argument. Bastian seems to at least have defined a formula that has a chance of succeeding. Best of luck to him and interested to see where this goes from here.

  12. I like the Junya Watanabe Brooks Brothers collection. Japanese designers pay close attention to detail and have respect for tradition while improving the classics:

    https://www.brooksbrothers.com/Brooks-Brothers-eYe-COMME-des-GARCONS-JUNYA-WATANABE-MAN%3A-The-Button-Down-Patchwork-Shirt/MG03822,default,pd.html?dwvar_MG03822_Color=BLUE&contentpos=3&cgid=

  13. It’s a win. I would wear 2 of the 3 outfits on the young guy. And the third – well we can’t and shouldn’t all look identical.

    Keep in mind BB has always been an innovator, people tend to forget that.

    And you are not going to survive selling exact replicas of 1960’s clothing to septuagenarians who already have enough clothes to last the rest of their lives.

  14. Great article and a very realistic assessment. BB is going to have to justify and cover the 320 m investment by the two partners.

    Press remains the go to for one stop traditional American clothing. They do all of the offerings well. Press is evolving somewhat as one sees less emphasis on suits in succeeding lookbooks.

  15. Nice improvements for the younger set. Glad to see they at least are trying. The two designers look ridiculous, though. Seriously, patch pockets on the outside of Bastian’s pants? And that wide belt on the other guy?

    As an aside for the traditional Brooks man who might still visit this site, I wore a Brooks buttondown yesterday (the old-new version with pocket and collar lining) and one today (the new old version – sans those things). Both same color and size, 16.5 x 35 traditional fit.) For those shopping on thrift and ebay, as Brooks no longer makes traditional fit – they now actually have the audacity to call Madison ‘traditional’ (do words mean nothing in 2021 America?. A cap is a hat, and any color chinos are called khakis, for example), the pocketed version is far preferable. The thickness of the cloth alone does the trick for me, as well as the fact that the old-new version is more roomy through the chest. I can live with the lined collar if it is the trade for the thicker and roomier cloth.

  16. JDV’s words were in the spirit of what I was thinking: It’s good to know they’re trying.

    In conclusion, Brooks Brothers doesn’t want to alienate its (aging) base while it “gets with the times.” They’re being tasked to intepret its brand heritage for today’s trad consumers, which is also a way of saying Brooks Brothers has no interest in being a niche, boutique (or defunct) business.

  17. I’ll gladly stand instructed, even if I disagree about the significance of designers. The designs, all time-tested and A+, stand in zero need for innovation. And we’ve reason to remain a tad skeptical about the notion that bigger (more popular) is better. Let’s remember that it was the aiming for mass appeal that got Brooks into trouble in the first place.

    Apropos the positive vibes: any news about the possibility of a Brooks OCBD that salutes the yesteryear ‘polo collar’? Not the Garland version. I’m thinking more Paterson, NJ— if they can do it. That would be a (big) step in the right direction.

  18. * ‘of’ innovation

  19. “Whatever price is paid for the company, that has to be repaid. It is as important as any other directive. And the way you do that is the way that Bastian has done that.“

    Maybe the most important of all the points made. Truth. Reality.

  20. Nick Hilton is still in business? Good to know. And SE – Nick Hilton is a designer, he just happens to design goods that you like. Nick’s not a cutter, or a pattern maker, etc etc, so…

    I think that Bastian’s first step out of the gate is a hit. Home run, maybe not, but a solid double.

    Paul is right, BB is in the debt service business now – but this collection at least shows a willingness to move in a trad-ish/ ivy-ish direction while maintaining the requisite commercial viability.

  21. Nick, who happily regards himself a retail merchant (not a “designer”), would be the first to assert that, when it comes to this particular style, all the best designs we know-and-like can’t be improved upon. Not really. And some of us have tired of phrases like “reinvented” vis a vis the “next new thing” in American traditional style. No one has improved upon the designs that were introduced many decades ago, and most if not all the efforts (at reinvention) have been–well, let’s go with understatement–less than successful.

  22. Seems to be nothing new here.

    Will

  23. I like it. The looks are appealing. The maximalist equestrian cameo is spot-on. But breaking out the fair isle and pearls isn’t playing fair, is it?

  24. Some offhand, probably worthless thoughts:
    1. The title “designer” is about marketing to the younger people like the models; in reality, Bastian was essentially an editor who picked the fabrics, colors and general cuts (note that I did NOT use the word curate).
    2. Lotsa blue, which is usually associated with happiness and positivity. In the time of COVID. With winter’s usual browns, olives and grays approaching.
    3. With the exception of the plaid suit (positively Rowing Blazers), the impossibly handsome guy (the bastard) plays second fiddle to the non-Trad gal, who is not exactly BB’s Stepford wife from the past or RL’s bored, pouty debutante from forever. It’s like they used the woman to express the edgier elements while pulling their punches with the guy.
    4. I’ve over- or under-thought this.

  25. SE Who makes for Nick? English American/H Freeman? The offerings from a few years ago that didn’t seem to take off much we’re pretty underwhelming. I recall something about “spot fusing”, which is an annoying trick that Southwick would occasionally use. It makes letting out the seams troublesome because of the small glue spots that need to be scrubbed off. Also Gambert’s button-down collar is just ok. Mercer is superior in every way. Also your advice to order from Hilton is taken with the same grain of salt one should take for your recommendation of Adrian Jules, a thoroughly disappointing maker.

    This Brooks Brothers stuff looks lame. As it has for the last decade plus. I don’t understand why Brooks Brothers is still a topic of discussion, should we dissect the Jos A Bank offerings too? Who cares? This is just more degradation and expansion of the term “Ivy” to mean basically anything the author/editor decides it does.

  26. I think Jason Isbell may have put it best
    “And I learned not to say much of nothing
    So I figure you already know
    But in case you don’t or maybe you forgot
    I’ll lay it out real nice and slow
    Don’t call what you’re wearing an outfit
    Don’t ever say your car is broke
    Don’t worry about losing your accent
    Cause a Southern Man tells better jokes”

    They could have said & done so much with 6 easy products; 5 traditional cut ocbds & a old No.1sack blazer. Such a move would have restored faith & established a lot of goodwill.
    To me, it’s just an outfit- uninspired & unoriginal.
    F

  27. I wear a suit or sport coat & tie to the office, every day. I have dressed like this since I graduated from college in 1992.
    I am an expert on my clothes, I know construction & fit.
    I have own Hilton suits that could hold their own against Golden Fleece or Oxxford Gotham. Despite his proximity to Princeton, its good stuff.
    Skip makes a good shirt at a fair price- I have 3 in rotation right now.
    Well said SE!
    F-

  28. Actually S.E., it is difficult to draw anything from Hilton if, I suppose, one doesn’t live in Princeton and thus must rely on the Internet.

    Hilton’s website shows three sport coats, one of which is sold out. The prices for the remaining two are $1,425 and $1,650, respectively. Neither appears to be lovat nor particularly attractive, but that could be because the poor photos do them no favors. https://hiltonsprinceton.com/collections/mens-sport-coats-jackets

    But hey, you know everything, so…

  29. @whiskeydent, I agree the gal grabs your attention more than the guy. But isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

    One of the best clothing related statements I ever read was by Bill Blass. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect that “A man should be dressed so flawlessly that he draws no attention to himself, thus allowing the viewer to focus on the beauty of his female companion.”

    I so wish the comments had a Like button. – JB

  30. If it weren’t for their neckties, I’d have no interest at all in BB’s offerings. I have enough stock of BB OCBDs (admittedly my favorites) to last me till Doomsday. Chinos, grey flannels, and penny loafers are readily available from numerous sources. Navy blazers, tweed jackets, and suits I have more than enough of.
    Like some other comment-leavers, I believe that simplicity is the soul of Ivy/trad style. Michael Bastian doesn’t agree.

  31. I really like the collection. I can see Ivy style enthusiast wear every piece in the pictures. I’m not saying we would wear these pieces in the combination shown, but the individual pieces and the suits with the right shirt and tie would be nicely trad. I don’t understand all the negative comments.

  32. whiskeydent,
    in this instance, if not everything, a bit more than you. If you want me to walk you through it, we can slowly walk our way though good Scottish cloth and go from there.

  33. Ed,
    Nick uses a variety of makers. Lots. These days he’s favoring American manufacturers that/who know how to replicate the old Southwick Warwick (latterly Douglas) shoulder.

    There isn’t just one Gambert collar. There are many. Lots. And they can customize length. So…

    Mercer is good but I’m not a fan of their supima.

    Adrian Jules offers a multitude of models and approaches toward tailoring, so I can’t be sure about your reasons for disappointment. They’re far better than H. Freeman, which you referenced.

  34. S.E., I’d rather spoil a walk on a golf course. Good day.

  35. Understood.

    There are purists out there, and it’s neither a boon nor a credit to any community, sartorial or otherwise, to demean the desire (demand) for attention to details. I am aware of three retailers who, combined, cater to the expectations of far more than 38 people. Ir’a probable those men have never visited this website and it’s equally probable they’ve simply learned their tastes and preferences from fathers, brothers, and other men in their lives. (especially true in Southern circles). If they can go custom, they will–because it’s available and offered and, frankly, less expensive than off-the-rack stuff that’s pricey in part because big name designers are paid well. And, probably to the surprise of some, U.S.A.-made goods are still a priority.

    Custom is the future of this look. Christian recognized this. It’s full-circle, back to the past, when the New Haven retailers focused on custom.

  36. Hi S.E. Not at all demeaning the desire (demand) for attention to details. Instead, asking you to track what happens when the 39th person (that’s an arbitrary number to make a point) wants a shirt. The custom New Haven maker does what? Manufactures shirts. Custom is not the future of any look. It is a thin slice of the overall pie. I totally understand that there is a demographic for it. And if I were to open a store that would be a service offering. But to say that the future of any industry is to radically diminish it’s product volume while increasing its price and its delivery time – isn’t where we are anymore. – JB

  37. S.E. – this is the most Trad/ Ivy stuff I have ever seen – must beat a path to Princeton:
    https://hiltonsprinceton.com/collections/shop-all-mens/products/lowell-prints
    https://hiltonsprinceton.com/collections/shop-all-mens/products/l-s-knit-shirt
    https://hiltonsprinceton.com/collections/shop-all-mens/products/stenick-suede-jacket

    But seriously, picks out cloth, uses multiple makers (no quibble with Adrian Jules, though not my preference), takes a few measurements – designer or merchant? Tomato, tomahto.

    Still think the Bastian collection is a step in the right direction.

  38. @ Rake
    Ah, a smartass. Okay, give and take.

    if you’re genuinely interested, you could, given the information you now have access to, pick up the phone and call. I’ll venture a guess that you’re not very interested (at all). Jules makes a great jacket. So, for MTM, who tops them? Another guess: you have no idea. If so, share some details with us. All ears.

  39. J. Press is proof that (one version of) the future of this look, much discussed here, is Japan — Japanese traditionalists (a vague and admittedly clumsy phrase, but there it is). Without Onward, there is no J. Press in 2021. Without Onward, J. Press fades into sartorial abyss decades ago. Their execs had the good sense to eventually return to the classics– high quality, attention to detail, made in America (mostly).

    But–and this is the point that JB is making, I gather–the priorities for Brooks are very different. In terms of “product volume,” especially. A different business model. No one can blame some of us for hoping that Brooks would pay attention to Onward’s vision for J. Press and aim for (a certain kind of) quality over (mere) quantity.
    We’ll see how it goes.

    That’s my point, and I completely agree with yours as well sir. – JB

  40. Well S.E., I have one MTM Adrian Jules odd jacket. I have many, many more Samuelsohn and Southwick MTM odd jackets, sold by one of our local haberdashers (or happily, retail merchant – please, NEVER designer). Over the years I have found the Southwick a bit too stiffly constructed, especially for Fall/ Winter jackets, so have switched over to Hickey Freeman – same haberdasher. I find both more well made than my Adrian Jules jacket. Specifically, arm holes and linings more neatly stitched, and button-holes significantly cleaner. I doubt that either have hand-stitched buttonholes, however. The other outfitter in our town used Empire and Adrian Jules. The Jules was by far the nicer of those two makes, and offers a wide number of styles to choose from, or for your retail merchant to choose from. So, while your mileage may vary, I hope this is a satisfactory comparison, and thanks a million for the wonderful “information” I now have “access to”, lol’z.

    I also have to confess an interest in giving J.Press MTM a try, though have not done so yet. And, while not “Trad” per se, would be interested in both Martin Greenfield and Franco Ercole, though I fear that I’ve missed the best generation for both. As to Hilton, I guess I could call and ask for Nick – never Jennifer – and see. But then I’d have to go to NJ.

  41. Also SE, missed your comment at 1:34pm re: J Press, which I agree with completely.

  42. I suppose it depends what one means by a designer. Certainly someone at J. Press (a designer?) had to decide what colors to offer in last season’s corduroy trousers and whether this season’s madras sport shirts would have a locker loop or a third button at the back of the collar. I need someone to do that. I don’t need someone to come up with kicky new fashion looks for me.

  43. Ezra Cornell | September 4, 2021 at 8:02 am |

    Late to the game, but thank you for this very thoughtful and balanced review, which has also sparked an engaged range of interesting comments. This is terrific.

  44. Nice article.

  45. Another thing I’ll add, S.E., as you now know I don’t need your “info” – I am a stickler for a close fitting jacket neck. I find the closer fitting, the neater the shoulder line. The Adrian Jules is by far the loosest fitting neck in an MTM that I have had made. Hickey seems to have nailed the neck fit for me. They are “the goods”, as you say.

  46. Try to find a picture of Bastian in which he isn’t wearing clothes at least a size too small. His idea of perfect pants are low-rise and skinny-leg, like the pants he’s wearing above–Ohashi’s jeans are so tight, they might as well be tights–and those his male model has squeezed into in the second pic from the bottom. Bastian’s shirts are only a little less constricting. The Bastian look, like Bastian himself, is laughably dated. Noah, ALD, Rowing Blazers, et al. have thrived by rejecting the mantra, “the skinner, the better.” The young and hip aren’t squeezing into their clothes anymore. If that’s Bastian and Ohashi’s target market, they’re in trouble. Why pay Brooks Brothers prices for J. Crew Ludlow circa 2015 fits? https://putthison.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/tumblr_nthz3lJiqW1qa2j8co1_1280.jpg

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