It’s been over a year since Brooks Brothers changed hands, and the company is pressing ahead with its plan to reinvent.
The country’s oldest brand, which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018, was hit hard after 19 years of ownership by Italian billionaire Claudio Del Vecchio, and ended up in bankruptcy court before being bailed out by SPARC, a joint venture between Authentic Brands Group and the Simon Property Group, which paid $325 million for the business in September 2020.
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Since then, the number of physical stores has been scaled back—including closing the main Madison Avenue, owned by Del Vecchio personally—resulting in brick-and-mortar stores in the United States to about 165 from about 200 at the time. cuts.
But under the watchful eye of new CEO Ken Ohashi, Brooks Brothers aims to return to its former glory – but with a new, more modern image. The results in 2021, according to Ohashi, were better than expected. “For the year, the business has performed above expectations and generally exceeded plan,” he said. “It was driven by the increase in the sportswear business and the suits business as well, so we took advantage of both.”
One of the most important steps leading to the company’s recent success has been Ohashi’s appointment of Michael Bastian as Creative Director. Bastian began his retail career as an associate buyer for Abraham & Straus and worked as the men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman for five years before leaving in 2006 to launch his own collection. He was nominated for and won the CFDA Menswear Award six times in 2011. He also created a private collection for Gant and was the interim creative director of Ted Baker.
At Brooks Brothers, Bastian has been tasked with updating the lineup without losing sight of its rich heritage—and dramatically increasing the penetration of sportswear, which accounted for 27 percent of sales at the time of the acquisition. So he sifted through the company’s archives and reinterpreted key classics like oxfords, rugby shirts, coats, and shorts. They complement the jackets, jackets, joggers, and bombers that all associate with customers during the holiday season.
For spring, sportswear is expected to remain the star. The general theme of the season is Island Life, which is inspired by two resort destinations: Nantucket and Palm Beach. Nautical stripes and sailboat prints are found throughout the collection, with an embroidered lobster jacket, twill jacket, and sailing shorts among the standout pieces.
“It all starts and ends with the product,” Ohashi said. “In many ways, Michael brought back what people wanted from us, and the Brooks Brothers were the Brooks Brothers again.”
Whether it’s an Oxford jacket, a Shetland jacket or a Fair Isle jacket, “we took ownership back and made sure it was on track,” he said. “It resonated with the client.”
Other changes include updating the marketing strategy to focus less on print and billboards and more on digital. He said a new head of digital marketing is working to ensure all assets are directed this way.
This year, the website will be improved to include more functions such as online purchase and in-store pickup. Although online business has been strong, Ohashi said physical stores have also rebounded. “We feel good about all the channels,” he said. “We are seeing a strong recovery in our retail business, which is the heart of the Brooks Brothers business in many ways.”
In addition, the company attracts new customers at a record rate. “The company has never seen customer acquisition numbers at this rate,” he said.
Once again, Ohashi attributed this to updates in the product led by Bastian.
“We couldn’t be happier with Michael,” he said. “It embodies the brand’s DNA very well and we’ll see it continue into the spring as we adjust the fit and fabric. His first collection came out only three months ago, so it’s hard to believe the customer is responding so positively.”
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