Brooks Broth­ers

The son of Italy’s sec­ond-rich­est man talks about the sur­vival in­stinct of Amer­ica’s old­est brand.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

Brooks Broth­ers has been around for longer than most brands in the re­tail in­dus­try. The all-Amer­i­can brand started in New York City in 1818 and has been a proud pro­po­nent of ‘made in Amer­ica’ ever since. To date, 40 out of 45 of the United States’ pres­i­dents have been out­fit­ted by Brooks Broth­ers, in­clud­ing Barack Obama and Don­ald Trump. In a way, Brooks Broth­ers is more syn­ony­mous with the United States of Amer­ica than a hamburger is.

Yet, with such a sto­ried his­tory and a pres­ence span­ning two cen­turies, there were still firsts for Brooks Broth­ers to draw on to cel­e­brate this year’s mile­stone. The brand flew to Florence, Italy in Jan­uary for its first run­way show any­where in the world, show­ing off both menswear and wom­enswear har­mo­niously. Fifty-one mod­els walked to the tunes played live by the Ital­ian Phil­har­monic in­clud­ing ,of course, Ali­cia Keys’ ‘Em­pire State of Mind’.

“Brooks Broth­ers has never been a [solely] whole­sale busi­ness. And nor­mally, a fash­ion show is done as part of a sell­ing process for brands that do whole­sale—that’s the rea­son why we never did it be­fore,” chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fice Clau­dio Del Vec­chio ex­plains. But with a laugh, he goes on to say: “Now that we’ve learnt how to do it, we’re def­i­nitely not look­ing at hav­ing four shows a year. If we do [a fash­ion show], it’ll be some kind of an­nual event.”

Del Vec­chio is also the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Lux­ot­tica Group, the world’s largest eyewear man­u­fac­turer—pro­duc­ing for brands in­clud­ing Prada, Ray-Ban, Burberry, Oliver Peo­ple’s and Coach— and a busi­ness his fa­ther, Leonardo Del Vec­chio, founded. It was dur­ing his full-time ten­ure at Lux­ot­tica that he first en­coun­tered Brooks Broth­ers on a visit to New York at the age of 25.

“I fell in love with the aes­thetic and what they were do­ing. It wasn’t my only choice [of brands] but I started buy­ing a lot of prod­ucts there more and more,” he ex­presses. Del Vec­chio was so taken by Brooks Broth­ers’ Amer­i­can style that he con­vinced the brand to licence its name to Lux­ot­tica for a range of Brooks Broth­ers eyewear. “Ten years later, when they de­cided to put the com­pany up for sale, I felt that it was a good op­por­tu­nity to come and try to res­cue what I felt was some­thing,” he con­tin­ues.

And res­cue he did. The Brooks Broth­ers store in New York City’s One Lib­erty Plaza was dam­aged by the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tack due to its close prox­im­ity to the col­lapsed World Trade Cen­ter com­plex. Del Vec­chio, hav­ing ac­quired Brooks Broth­ers months af­ter the at­tack, took it upon him­self to re­open the store at the same site. Like the in­deli­ble tough spirit of a New Yorker, the store re­sumed op­er­a­tions a year later.

It seems dra­matic to say that Brooks Broth­ers has sur­vived more than just a ter­ror­ist at­tack, yet in essence, the brand has. Within its 200 years of ex­is­tence, Brooks Broth­ers has weath­ered through the Amer­i­can Civil War, both World Wars, mul­ti­ple eco­nomic re­ces­sions and the pol­i­tics that come with them. And through it all, Del Vec­chio notes the ef­fects they have had, and con­tinue to have, on con­sumers.

“I think the goal that we have to have is adapt. We’re not go­ing to be driv­ing new changes, but we need to re­spon­si­bly adapt and fol­low cus­tomers’ needs and make sure that our mis­sion is to make them feel com­fort­able at ev­ery oc­ca­sion,” he ex­plains. “And if the oc­ca­sion changes, we have to learn what they are and adapt. So it’s a con­tin­ued and con­sis­tent adap­ta­tion.”

Del Vec­chio cites the evo­lu­tion of how he’s been see­ing cus­tomers mak­ing use of the In­ter­net as a prime ex­am­ple. Ac­cord­ing to Del Vec­chio, half of the cus­tomers who walked in to a Brooks Broth­ers store five years ago would have al­ready re­searched on­line what they’d want to buy. Now, cus­tomers would come to the store first, try on their sizes and then buy the prod­ucts on­line.

“And of course, some peo­ple are bet­ter at adapt­ing, while others are slower. I say, ‘make sure to not throw the baby out with the bath­wa­ter’—you have to be care­ful be­cause not all cus­tomers move at the same speed. You have to take care of a wide range of chang­ing at­ti­tudes, so that’s prob­a­bly the big­gest chal­lenge that we have to­day,” he goes on to ex­plain.

What makes it tougher is that Brooks Broth­ers is not your typ­i­cal trend-driven fash­ion brand. Its mainly clas­sic menswear of­fer­ing is a dou­ble-edged sword—great for the dis­cern­ing gen­tle­man who’s been loyal to the brand for decades, but not so much for the streetwear-loving youths of to­day. In place of mov­ing away from the time-hon­oured aes­thetic of Brooks Broth­ers, the brand has in­cluded more ca­sual pieces over the years. The 200th an­niver­sary run­way show was also a show­case of how the brand has evolved its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of clas­sic menswear. There was a lesser em­pha­sis on ties, coats and suit blaz­ers were cut to be less rigid, and the styling was more con­tem­po­rary than the ex­pected suit, tie and shirt com­bi­na­tion.

Del Vec­chio calls this the Brooks Broth­ers mis­sion. This idea of putting the cus­tomers’ needs and wants above how the world at large is chang­ing might be seen as slow, but it’s what Del Vec­chio feels has worked for 200 years “and hope­fully will keep working for another 200 years”. Change is con­stant, but know­ing when and how seems to be the for­mula to steady suc­cess and sur­vival.

“WE’ RE NOT GO­ING TO BE DRIV­ING NEW CHANGES, BUT WE NEED TO RE­SPON­SI­BLY ADAPT .”

— Clau­dio Del Vec­chio

Brooks Broth­ers brought its 200th an­niver­sary run­way show to Shang­hai.

Keep­ing the tra­di­tional codes of Brooks Broth­ers but styled ef­fort­lessly for the now.

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