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Brooks Brothers is the oldest retail brand and clothier in the United States and is headquartered in Manhattan, New York City. Founded in 1818 as a family business, the company is privately owned by Sparc group. As a result of store closures and poor online sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company filed for bankruptcy in July 2020. In the beginning of August 2020, the retailer was purchased in a joint venture by Simon properties and Authentic Brands Group. Brooks Brothers produces clothing for men, women, and children. Designer Zac Posen has been its women's collection creative director since June 2014.
|Founded||April 7, 1818 (as H. & D. H. Brooks & Co.)|
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
|Founder||Henry Sands Brooks|
|Headquarters||Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.|
|Henry Sands Brooks, founder
Zac Posen, creative director, women's collection
|Products||Men's and women's luxury clothing|
|Parent||Authentic Brands Group, SPARC Group|
On April 7, 1818, at the age of 45, Henry Sands Brooks (1772–1833) opened H. & D. H. Brooks & Co. on the northeast corner of Catherine and Cherry streets in Manhattan. He proclaimed that his guiding principle was, "To make and deal only in merchandise of the finest body, to sell it at a fair profit, and to deal with people who seek and appreciate such merchandise." In 1833, his four sons, Elisha, Daniel, Edward, and John, inherited the family business and in 1850 renamed the company "Brooks Brothers."
During the cotton boom of the early 19th century, Brooks Brothers was one of several prominent clothiers to manufacture clothing using cotton harvested by slaves. The company in turn sold clothing that was then worn by slaves.
In its early history, Brooks Brothers was known for introducing the ready-to-wear suit to American customers. In the mid-nineteenth century, Brooks Brothers outfitted United States President Abraham Lincoln and considered him a loyal customer. At his second inauguration, Abraham Lincoln wore a coat specially crafted for him by Brooks Brothers. Hand-stitched into the coat's lining was a design featuring an eagle and the inscription, "One Country, One Destiny." He was wearing the coat and a Brooks Brothers suit when he was assassinated. As a supplier of soldiers' uniforms during the Civil War, Brooks Brothers became a target of outrage for its allegedly shoddy production. With a contract from New York State to supply uniforms for the New York Volunteers, Brooks Brothers took shredded and sometimes decaying rags, glued them together and stitched them into uniforms. They would fall apart in the rain and were the subject of ridicule from other regiments.
Clothing American Presidents & US GovernmentEdit
Brooks Brothers has outfitted 41 of the 45 American Presidents. United States President Ulysses S. Grant began his association with Brooks Brothers during the Civil War, when he ordered tailored uniforms for the Union officers in the American Civil War. President Theodore Roosevelt was fond of Brooks Brothers' clothes; he even ordered his dress uniform for the Spanish–American War at Brooks Brothers. Many more presidents, including Herbert Hoover, Chester Arthur, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama were known to wear Brooks Brothers clothing lines. Franklin Roosevelt wore a Brooks Brothers collared cape and fedora at the Yalta Conference in 1945.
In the late nineteenth century, Brooks Brothers tailored many distinctive uniforms for elite regiments of the New York National Guard, as well as uniforms for New York state troops and Union officers during the Civil War. At that time, contracts for uniforms were notorious as an example of corruption in how they were obtained and the poor quality of the clothing delivered, the uniforms often having been made of pressed rag so that they fell apart in the first rains.
The Golden Fleece symbol was adopted as the company's trademark in 1850. A wooly sheep suspended in a ribbon had long been a symbol of British woolen merchants. Dating from the fifteenth century, the image had been the emblem of the Knights of the Golden Fleece, founded by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. In classical Greek mythology, a magical flying ram, or Golden Fleece, was sought by Jason and the Argonauts.
Mid-Late 20th CenturyEdit
The last member of the Brooks family to head the company was Winthrop Holly Brooks, who ran the company from 1935 until its sale in 1946, when the company was acquired by Julius Garfinckel & Co. Although Winthrop Brooks remained with the company as a figurehead, after the acquisition, John C. Wood became the director of Brooks Brothers. Just prior to that, Wood had been the carrier of the papers for the Dumbarton Oaks Conference. Under the leadership of Wood, Brooks Brothers became even more traditional.
By 1971, eleven Brooks Brothers stores were in operation and located in Manhattan, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis as an integral part of the retail conglomerate Garfinckel, Brooks Brothers, Miller & Rhoads, Inc., that held the company until 1981 when it was acquired by Allied Stores.
Brooks Brothers was acquired by the British firm, Marks & Spencer, in 1988. In the mid 1990s, the company's executives removed the signature Golden Fleece logo from the brand's cotton knit polo shirts. In 2001, Marks & Spencer sold Brooks Brothers to Retail Brand Alliance ("RBA"), now known as The Brooks Brothers Group, a company privately owned by Italian billionaire Claudio del Vecchio (son of Luxottica founder Leonardo del Vecchio). Along with Brooks Brothers, RBA comprises Carolee, a designer of jewelry for department stores and specialty stores. In 2007, RBA sold its high end women's brand Adrienne Vittadini.
As of 2015, there were 210 Brooks Brothers stores in the United States and 70 in other countries, including Australia, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, China, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Chile, Canada, Panama, Italy, the Philippines, Poland, Mexico, UAE, Peru, Singapore, Switzerland, Indonesia, Malaysia, Greece, and Vietnam. In 1998, Brooks Brothers launched its official website. Headquartered on New York's Madison Avenue, United States flagship stores are in Manhattan, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Beverly Hills.
Most of its clothing is now imported, but some suits, sport coats, shirts and accessories are manufactured in the United States. Many of its mid-range "1818" line of suits are manufactured at Brooks Brothers' Southwick plant in Haverhill, Massachusetts. All Brooks Brothers necktie silk is woven in England or Italy, and the ties still are "cut and piled" at the Brooks Brothers' tie factory in Long Island City, New York; many of its shirts are manufactured at its shirt factory in Garland, North Carolina. Brooks also has a series of books on etiquette and manners for ladies and gentlemen. Its higher-end label is the Golden Fleece line which features suits that are tailored in the United States.
In September 2007, Brooks Brothers' then CEO, Claudio Del Vecchio, announced the unveiling of a new high-end collection of men's and women's wear named Black Fleece. Del Vecchio announced that the first star guest designer for the new collection would be New York menswear designer Thom Browne. Black Fleece received so much critical and commercial success that Brooks Brothers opened a stand-alone Black Fleece boutique on Bleecker Street in the Winter of 2008. Brooks Brothers recently released a line of clothing catering to Asian clientele.
In 2008, the company began an extensive renovation of its flagship store at 346 Madison Avenue. In January 2009, Brooks Brothers closed a smaller location at Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan.
Between 2017 and 2019, sales stagnated at around $1 billion due to business fashion turning more casual and online competition. This strain is due in part to changing market tastes, although the COVID-19 pandemic is a contributing factor. In May 2020, it was reported that Brooks Brothers was seeking a buyer. Reports also suggest the company is exploring a bankruptcy filing. In June, the company proposed closing its three American factories, “a dramatic move for a brand that has really hung their hat on ‘Made in America.” Claudio Del Vecchio, the 63-year-old Italian industrialist responsible for acquiring the factory in Massachusetts, said that the U.S. factories never made any money and that the brand carries a debt of less than $300 million.
On July 8, 2020, it was reported the company was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to declining sales and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Brooks Brothers will close 51 of its 250 locations in North America. On August 12, it was announced that Brooks Brothers was sold to Simon Property Group, the biggest mall operator in the United States, and Authentic Brands Group, a licensing firm. The new owners committed to continue to operate at least 125 Brooks Brothers retail locations in the US, and more worldwide (down from 424 global locations before the COVID-19 pandemic).
Although today many people consider Brooks Brothers a very traditional clothier, the company introduced many clothing novelties to the American market throughout its history as a leader in the American menswear industry:
- Ready-to-wear in 1849
- In 1896, John E. Brooks, the grandson of Henry Sands Brooks, applied button-down collars to dress shirts after having seen them on English polo players.
- English foulard ties, introduced by Francis G. Lloyd in the 1890s before he was made president of the corporation
- Ivy League sack suit, 1895
- Pink dress shirt, became a sensation to go with charcoal-gray suits
- Harris Tweed, introduced in 1900
- Shetland sweater, introduced in 1904
- Polo coat about 1910
- Madras, introduced from India via Brooks Brothers to the public in 1902
- Argyles: in 1957, Brooks Brothers became the first American retailer to manufacture argyle socks for men
- Light-weight summer suits: the first lightweight summer suits made of cotton corduroy and seersucker were introduced by Brooks during the early 1930s
- Wash-and-wear shirts: in 1953, the store pioneered the manufacture of wash-and-wear shirts using a blend of Dacron, polyester, and cotton that was invented by Ruth R. Benerito, which they called "Brooksweave"
- Non-iron 100% cotton dress shirt, 1998
Brooks Brothers did not make an off-the-rack black suit between 1865 and 2003. For many years, a myth circulated that the reason the company did not make black suits out of deference to Abraham Lincoln who wore a bespoke black Brooks frock coat, a gift from the company, when he was assassinated. It is not clear if this policy was the result or cause of the traditional American fashion rule that black suits in daytime for men are proper only for servants and the deceased.
Ralph Lauren started out as a salesman at the Brooks Brothers Madison Avenue store. Brooks Brothers later sued Polo Ralph Lauren to retain its rights to the original polo button-down collar shirt.
Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Barry Fitzgerald, Fred Astaire, Nina Foch, and Maria Riva are among a long list of Hollywood celebrities who obtained special attention during the 1940s at Brooks Brothers in Manhattan, and they also catered to executives in the emerging television industry such as Fred Friendly and Edward R. Kenefick of CBS.
Brooks Brothers has outfitted 41 of the 45 American Presidents, including Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
According to The History Channel's The Presidents, Chester A. Arthur went on a Brooks Brothers shopping spree after becoming vice-president of the United States.
Music and fine artsEdit
Andy Warhol was known to buy and wear clothes from Brooks Brothers. According to Carlton Walters: "I got to [know] Andy quite well, and he always looked bedraggled: always had his tie lopsided, as he didn't have time to tie it, and he never tied his shoe laces, and he even wore different colored socks, but he bought all of his clothes at Brooks Brothers."
Film, television, and theatreEdit
The "white" shirts used for Archie Bunker's costumes in All in the Family were recut tan oxford shirts from Brooks Brothers. Tan was used to follow the sepia look of the series and to avoid lens flare, a problem with certain colors, such as white, on videotape at the time.
Brooks Brothers frequently is sought out by costume designers in Hollywood, dressing stars in such films as Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor, Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, and Will Smith in Ali. The company produced made-to-measure period costumes for Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters.
George Clooney wears Brooks Brothers throughout the film Up in the Air, and scenes were shot in a Brooks Brothers airport store. The men of the film The Adjustment Bureau wear Brooks Brothers. In November 2011, Brooks Brothers announced that it had designed a custom wardrobe for Kermit the Frog for the movie The Muppets. The young stars of Slumdog Millionaire were all dressed by Brooks Brothers for the 81st Academy Awards.
Brooks Brothers made all of the men's costumes, nearly 1500 items, for the 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. They also sponsored the premieres in New York City and Cannes Film Festival. This was followed by a limited edition collection designed with Catherine Martin and sold at Brooks Brothers stores around the world.
Aziz Ansari's character Tom Haverford, on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, frequently mentions buying clothes from the Brooks Brothers Boys collection because, as he says, "the cuts are slimmer, and it's cheaper. Win win."
Alec Baldwin's titular character in the 1994 film The Shadow was complimented on his Brooks Brothers tie by his adversary Shiwan Khan. The Shadow gives him the store's name and address in Midtown at the intersection of 45th and Madison. At their next meeting, Khan is dressed in Brooks Brothers clothing.
In the song “I’ll know” from the stage musical Guys and Dolls (which premiered on Broadway in 1950), in response to Sgt Sarah Brown's musings about her ideal husband, Sky Masterson scoffs: “You have wished yourself a Scarsdale Galahad, the breakfast-eating, Brooks Brothers type”. In the 1955 film version, the Brooks Brothers reference was removed. Marlon Brando, in the role of Sky Masterson, sings: “You have wished yourself a small-town Galahad, the breakfast-eating, four-button type” - either way the intention of the lyric is probably to draw a contrast between the suburban businessman type, clad in conservative American or British tailoring, and the glitzy, bold, stand-out-from-the-crowd Italian tailoring Sky Masterson and his fellow gangsters typically sport in most adaptations.
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Mary McCarthy's short story "The Man in the Brooks Brothers Shirt," which can be found in her collection The Company she keeps, 1942, is one of the more famous literary references to the Brooks Brothers.
Richard Yates not only wore Brooks Brothers clothing throughout his life, but he often referred to the brand in his writing, notably in A Good School, in which one of the characters tries to hang himself with a Brooks Brothers belt.
Novelist W.E.B. Griffin often has included mention of Brooks Brothers military uniforms, Dress uniform and Dress Mess uniform in particular, in his best-selling Brotherhood of War and The Corps book series.
In the novel Catch-22, Nately mentions that his father wears Brooks Brothers shirts.
Author Jason Landry makes mention of Brooks Brothers shirts in the essay Zen and the Art of Ironing a Dress Shirt, in his book Instant Connections.
In Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help, Skeeter wears one of her father's Brooks Brothers shirts.
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