18 September 2012
The Italian Department Store...at 346 Madison Ave.
Brooks Brothers has some challenges. My experience, as an employee with the company in the '80s, was that it was a lot like working for the federal government. Bloated with mostly incompetent management, it didn't really matter because the product sold itself. My customer wasn't 'sold' discreet rep ties, the perfect button down, cordovan tassel slip-ons, gray flannel sack suits, a fur felt hat or a fly front raincoat as much as it sold itself.
Recently, Charlie Davidson of the Andover Shop told me Brooks Brothers 'is dead' adding, "it looks like an Italian department store." Charlie's onto something and in more ways than one. While plenty of blame is frequently fired at Marks & Spencer (1988-2001) for almost tanking the company -- the Italians in Milan may just finish the job.
The problem is, the Brooks Brothers look doesn't look so Brooks Brothers anymore. That's not to say it looks bad -- Just Italian. See the extreme cut of a gray suit worn with a rich brown shoe. Bright trendy ties with tapered shirts worn by men who smoke too much, feel each others lapels and insist you open yourself to their culture but refuse to acknowledge yours.
Men who go shopping with each other and wear multi-colored dental floss on their wrists. Fashion is their 'get' and Italy is on a roll. But the bright colors, so loved now, will only annoy these fellas in a matter of months and like a lumbosacral sprain... they'll be back. But will Brooks Brothers, as we know it, be here?
In three years Brooks will celebrate 100 years in the 346 Madison building. In just six years, BB celebrates their bicentennial. What an amazing accomplishment. The question is, will it be Brooks Brothers or something else?