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.