Where Men You Admired Got Their Clothes

Last week the New York Times ran a major feature on the men who now own Brooks Brothers, and are bent on “reshaping the American retail landscape.”

Of new co-owner David Salter, the paper writes:

“Last year, we said within five years, we want to be at $20 billion,” he added, referring to the overall revenue generated from brands owned or jointly owned by Authentic Brands. “Another two to three deals could get us there.”

The purchase of Brooks Brothers, where layoff notices have already started going out, has put a spotlight on this arrangement — and invited new scrutiny. Supporters say SPARC is saving the businesses it’s buying. Critics say it’s simply exploiting their traumas for fast profits in ways that cheapen the brands’ legacies. They say the SPARC strategy treats brands and stores less like hothouses of creativity that need careful tending, and more like chess pieces to be moved around for maximum, if momentary, gain.

Well at least the screen capture at the top of the post, from Brooks’ website, has a pleasantly evocative “Talented Mr. Ripley” vibe.

The gradual decline of Brooks Brothers mirrors the United States as a whole as it spins out its lifespan from a rugged Protestant culture to a post-everything civilization driven entirely by commerce. I always forget who said it — Oscar Wilde? Bertrand Russell — that America was the only civilization in the history of the world to go from barbarism to decadence without an intermediary period of cultural greatness.

As for tradlier times, frequent commenter and contributor “BC” sent over the following quote from a book by Thomas Watson Jr., son of the founder of IBM. Writing about friend Al Williams, Watson writes:

Al seemed like a graduate from Yale. I asked him how he got so smooth and he was very open with me. He said, “I found out people I admired bought their clothes at Brooks Brothers, so that’s where I started buying mine.”

Enjoy your Sunday. Tomorrow we’ll have an exclusive from a legendary Ivy retailer that’s stuck to its roots. — CC

23 Comments on "Where Men You Admired Got Their Clothes"

  1. I suggest we, the commentariat, start a “Save Brooks Brothers” rebellion.

    As we all know, Brooks is a cultural institution. Its 200 year history is woven into the fabric of American life.

    Brooks Brothers has done more to change the face of menswear than Barneys, Neiman Marcus, and J. Crew combined. Now, fellow gentlemen, who is with me?

  2. Brooks was only salvageable if owned by Japanese SME, any-who for the birds now.

  3. Unlike say Penny’s, Brooks Brothers brands their clothing with the Brooks Brothers brand. Brooks Brothers could survive with a limited number of retail shops selling mostly online. I don’t care if all the BB stores in my state shut down – just as long as I can purchase their products online. BB could become like LL Bean with one major destination store in NYC.

  4. This whole thing is starting to resemble Thomas Cole’s fourth painting in “The Course of Empire” called “Destruction.” As Troy burns one would hope for an Aeneas to be on his way to founding a new Rome.

  5. Mitchell: America doesn’t care about “cultural institutions”, the way England, France, and Japan do. America has always been driven by business.

  6. BB needed the Dawn Mello/Tom Ford treatment. Alas, that can never be as Ms Mello and this mortal coil parted company some months ago. Would Ford have the clinical detachment to do it on his own? Mello wielded the knife which such commendable brutality…and that is what is needed – cut it to the quick and make it exclusive and pricey.

  7. First, let me say that I was never in the Ivy Style ‘doom-and-gloom’ crowd when BB was put on the auction block in the Delaware Bankruptcy Court, mostly because I figured there was at least a shot that the “right” purchaser would participate, retain (celebrate?) the heritage items, and maybe create a leaner-and-meaner operation that could be relevant again.

    Then, seeing the ‘Mr. Ripley’ shots, I was encouraged further: not everybody loves the movie, but if the new Brooks ownership was adopting its aesthetic out of the gate, even just in part, that might be a good sign: the younger, aspirational, Instagram crowd loves that imagery; us old fogeys like it enough (it’s a bit over-stylized, but it honors the heyday & even includes some jazz, etc.)

    But then I read the Times article. Oof. I don’t begrudge Mr. Salter making his gazillions any way he likes. But when your first comment isn’t even marketing pablum about “revitalizing the brand heritage using cross-platform synergies”, but rather “we want to be at 20 billion in 5 years”, you know the patient is dead. Mr. Salter apparently sees himself as a Gordon Gekko-style broker of licenses. It’s all over but the crying, boys. Expect to see the Brooks name on everything from potholders to baby carriages, a la Pierre Cardin in the Seventies. But no actual sack suits or repp ties, please.

    Let me end on a petty note: did anybody take a look at the photos in the article? What kind of 57 year old a**hole walks out the door dressed like Mark Zuckerberg? You know it’s bad when the mall guy dresses better than you do.

  8. “Salter’s vision for the 200-year-old Brooks Brothers has elements of his previous playbooks, like potential brand collaborations. “We’re going to be very careful obviously with Brooks Brothers,” he said. “But there will be multiple collaborations. We’re going to focus on the sportswear area in a major way. Say we want to build an outerwear program that you and I are going to wear on the weekends — maybe that’s a collaboration with Spyder.”

    https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/jamie-salter-builds-15-billion-empire-from-washed-up-retailers-1.1480115

  9. Paul is absolutely right. In addition to the photo and the opening quote, consider the following:

    “‘If I could buy anything, I’d buy Reebok,’ he said. ‘Hanna Barbera. I like the Flintstones, Yogi Bear. Got big ideas for Yogi Bear. I love the Jetsons.'”

    I think that this is a pretty good indication that Brooks has not landed in friendly hands.

    I am looking forward to Christian’s promised “exclusive from a legendary Ivy retailer.” I think could use palate cleanser after that one.

  10. Robert Archambeau | September 14, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Reply

    It was Oscar Wilde who said “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” Bertrand Russell had a few clever things to say about this country as well, though. I like his quip that “In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors.”

  11. Well at least the new owner included his daughter in the picture.

  12. NaturalShoulder | September 14, 2020 at 1:50 pm | Reply

    Like Paul, I held out a bit of hope (or very wishful thinking) about plans of new owner. Hope has now left the train station with more offshoring and continued cheapening of materials and production. However, we really don’t need Brooks to get the look. Sure it would be nice to walk into a retailer and come out with all wardrobe needs met, but possible to do online. Mercer, Ratio, Michael Spencer and others offer unlined OCBDs and broadcloth shirts. Alden, Rancourt, and Quoddy have you covered on shoes. Press or O’Connells for OTR suits, jackets, and trousers or certain local retailers for MTM natural shouldered jackets. David Hober makes a great tie and plenty of repp stripe options available. Those wanting the Trad/Ivy look can still find it and for that I am greatful.

  13. Agree with NaturalShoulder above,
    I wear Hicky-Freeman suits with Luigi Borrelli or Cesare Attolini shirts, Hermes ties and Allen-Edmonds Oxfords- BB sack suit with an OB shirt is so frumpy for business attire-makes you look like an old New England geezer.
    I do love OB shirts with tweed or blue blazers, wool trousers and/or jeans- accomplishes that particular look well.
    One really doesn’t need BB’s products that often- too formulaic and quality marginal?

  14. “BB sportswear” … LMAO

  15. @JohnnyBravo: help out an old Chesapeake geezer: what is an “OB” shirt?

  16. Kamakura Shirts!! Anybody know anything about their US closure?

  17. Put This On has a report. I’ll reach out to them and see about future plans for the US, such as ecommerce.

  18. OB (Oxford Button Down)
    I guess it should be
    OBD

  19. @JohnnyBravo: do you mean ‘OCBDs'(Oxford Cloth Button Downs)? They may not be Luigi Borrellis or Cesare Attolinis, but us geezers are fond of them.

  20. The fixtures at 346 are being removed and the employees are gathering their things. It’s done.

  21. Behind Enemy Lines | September 21, 2020 at 5:10 am | Reply

    Mitchell | September 13, 2020 at 1:44 pm |
    I suggest we, the commentariat, start a “Save Brooks Brothers” rebellion.

    As we all know, Brooks is a cultural institution. Its 200 year history is woven into the fabric of American life.

    Brooks Brothers has done more to change the face of menswear than Barneys, Neiman Marcus, and J. Crew combined. Now, fellow gentlemen, who is with me?

    Brother, you have the right instincts. From what others have written, though, I fear we’re simply too late to help Brooks. For what it’s worth, I’ve promised myself that I will now buy trad kit from trad providers manufacturing in trad USA even if it means I have to pay a small fortune for it. Same with the allies.

  22. RICHARD M GERSHON | October 3, 2020 at 2:12 pm | Reply

    Brooks started it’s decline when it tried to be something it was not: a store for everyman, ie, pleats on trousers, two button jackets etc.

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