Brooks Brothers recently launched its Spring line and I think it looks pretty good. It’s not cutting edge or breaking any new stylistic ground, but the design team has decided to channel the golden age of menswear – 1930s and ‘40s Hollywood. They have done a pretty good job of capturing the flair of that era, while at the same time reinterpreting the fashions for today’s consumers.
There is a pleasing balance to the overall style, timeless classics like sport coats cut for warmer weather in silk and merino blends and lightweight Harris Tweed, shawl collared cardigan sweaters, and elegant shirting. There are also a few items that take some sartorial guts to wear, like the Ghurka styled belted shorts and pink seersucker blazer. Neither is particularly edgy, but sometimes it’s easier to be outrageously shocking than truly classic.
This season’s collection, as with nearly all since the company was acquired by Italian Claudio Del Vecchio in 2001, has a distinctly European feel. The overall message is American glamour, but the execution is quite continental. Not that Brooks Brothers has ever been slacker when it comes to actual quality, but until Mr. Del Vecchio took the reins, there had been a very distinct sense of sartorial stagnation.
Not too long ago, I also stopped by Brooks Brothers’ flagship store on Madison Avenue to check out the Black Fleece line. Thom Browne’s joint venture with Brooks has been both lauded and paned. Up on the third floor of the store, with a huge plasma screen showing runway clips in a slightly industrial showroom style setting with freestanding sample racks, I found a hipper version of the Brooks Brothers’ traditional clubby feel. Overall, I was impressed.
I ran into two Japanese gents trying on Black Fleece oxford shirts and asked them for an opinion on fit; “definitely a slimmer fit,” came the reply. But they both seemed pretty impressed; and so was I. The samples on display, turned inside-out, highlighted exceptional tailoring and the fabrics were alternately butter soft or weighty and dense – each appropriate to the piece.
The general feel of the collection is a merger between the pared down monochromatic aesthetic of 1950s America and the restrained yet stylized European body conscious look of today. It’s not your dad’s Brooks Brothers, but it’s also not abandonment of classic style. That same traditional sensibility is there, but with a twist.
Some things however, like the dove gray morning coat tricked out with white trim, a la boating jacket, are wholly decorative and practically nonfunctional in the real world (at least mine). Browne’s trademark shrunken suit has been elongated to the more realistic proportions of actual men who don’t work the runways for a living. It’s a fresh breath of air for a classic label.
Another strong design season is putting Brooks Brothers back on the style map.