The Maddest Man:
Thom Browne leads Brooks Brothers to the forefront, and to Toronto
Brooks Brothers is the type of brand that’s passed down from father to son. It’s easy to imagine an Upper East Side dad bringing in a newly hired son—recently returned from the Ivy League—to be custom fit for a suit before his first day in the financial big leagues. Amongst old money Manhattanites, it’s something of a ritual.
And with the opening of a sprawling 22,000 sq. ft. flagship shop in Toronto’s financial district, our city’s fathers and sons can now be outfitted in Brooks Brothers, too. Fresh off a flight from Manhattan, the brand’s communications manager, Arthur Wayne, gave me a tour of the new store.
After a firm handshake and hello there was one thing I needed to see before sitting down with the company’s CEO to talk business. Take me to the Thom Browne, I told Wayne. With a knowing smile Wayne led me towards Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers, the collection Browne designs for the brand.
A hit with fashion critics, Black Fleece made buzz for Brooks Brothers again, after a rocky decade under the management of Marks and Spencer. Hiring the designer, whose known for his cutting edge take on traditional menswear and his high tailored trousers, is one of the steps chairman and CEO Claudio Del Vecchio has taken to revitalize the iconic American brand since purchasing the label in 2001.
“As we were making the effort to bring back the brand to the place we felt it belonged, we were looking to speed up that process and appeal to a customer who might have given up on Brooks Brothers,” Vecchio later explained to me, seated next to a branded pillow one of the couches tucked into the back of the store. It was at that point that editrix Anna Wintour introduced Vecchio to Browne, who Vecchio eventually signed. “We got to know [Thom Brown], put the two things together, and thought he could help us,” Vecchio said.
Proud of her match making abilities, Wintour hasn’t been shy about drumming up positive PR for the label. “Anna Wintour named dropped you on Letterman the other night, you know,” I said to Wayne as he walked ahead of me through the store. Wayne cranked his neck back towards me, his eyes lighting up. “I know,” he gleamed. “That was a big day for me.”
As popular dress continues to take its nostalgic turn backwards in time, Wayne can expect many more big days for Brooks Brothers. Having dressed plenty of presidents passed—everyone from Kennedy and Eisenhower to Bill and Barack—the brand now has a chance to picture itself inside of contemporary pop culture.
Wayne recounted a recent episode of Entourage, on which Turtle and Jamie-Lynn Sigler shop for Turtle’s back-to-school wardrobe at the Brooks Brothers on Rodeo Drive. When Jamie tells turtle he looks great in a madras shirt, Turtle scoffs, as Wayne imitated, “I look like Chuck Bass.” But it was Bass too that began to expose the brand to younger viewers, wearing plenty of the label on Gossip Girl, which Brooks Brothers helped create costumes for.
Most of all though, it’s Mad Men that’s brought Brooks Brothers to the forefront of pop culture. The meticulously created period-piece looks on the show have earned stylist Janie Bryant nominations at both the Costume Designers Guild Awards and the Emmys. And as Wayne explained, the designing of Don Draper began with Brooks Brothers.
Before she started styling the first season, Bryant spent a week in New York at the Brooks Brothers archives, pulling out suits from the sixties. Once she was satisfied with her carefully curated selection of suits and ties, Brooks Brothers helped her re-source the original fabrics to keep the styles authentic, and had each suit re-made for Mad Men’s male characters. Since then, the brand has assisted Bryant in the styling of each season.
“The style of that show has done tremendous things for the Menswear industry,” Wayne said. Though the brand has hesitated to leverage the connection to the heavily hyped show with any official initiatives, as Banana Republic did with its recent Mad Men photo contest, Wayne says the connection has given Brooks Brothers a chance to talk about its heritage (a cornerstone of its latest communication) with the press.
“It’s a matter of how much you want to scream about it. Our approach will be different than the great thing Banana did,” Wayne said. “With Brooks Brothers, Brooks Brothers comes first. Those opportunities enhance the brand and bring it into new light, but it’s not something we depend on.”
So will we see any future marketing programs featuring the duds of Don Draper? I asked.
With a secretive smile he looked at me and said, “The season’s not over yet.”