Brooks Brothers: American Icon (Part 1)

Brooks Brothers.

Around the world that name defines classic American style. And with nearly 200 years of Ivy League, East Coast establishment history under its belt, Brooks can lay claim to the rare title of being an authentic American legend.

To many, Brooks Brothers conjures up images of a privileged, ivy covered and idyllic life. We imagine summer lawn parties and elegant gents sporting blue blazers and white duck trousers, perhaps comparing country estates over a cool gin and tonic. Maybe it’s Brooks’ almost iconic take on city life; heading off to the Yale Club for lunch in a pinstriped suit and cracked cordovan lace-ups, thick leather dispatch case and a cashmere overcoat to ward off the wintery chill.

Off The Cuff has been working on an extensive and ever-evolving profile of Brooks Brothers for quite some time.  The first installment of this labor of love now sits before you.

It’s a big piece, in fact it’s the longest in OTC’s six-year history.  Therefore, we decided to pare it down to about six bite-sized installments that will run throughout the month of February.

As a side note, Brooks Brothers was not directly involved in this project, although some of their corporate folks did give it a friendly nod after perusing a near-final draft.

Whatever glamorous, Ivy League slice of life this storied name brings to mind, after generations of style, a few stumbles and a new owner, Brooks Brothers is still very much a beloved brand to millions of devoted customers. And more than that, it has now reinvented itself as a modern Brooks Brothers that, with a wink in its eye, has married its core American aesthetic with a little European flair.

In addition to breathing new life into it’s iconic style, Brooks has also hit the social media circuit. It’s recently launched Facebook page and @BrooksBrothers Twitter handle are quickly garnering followers and building a reputation for steady, interesting content.

Brooks Brothers appears to appreciate the important fact that an evolving core of influential devotees, often younger converts, are already deep into social media. They run blogs (like OTC) and tweet, Facebook, text and You Tube their thoughts and opinions on brands like Brooks and on Ivy League style in general. In fact, Jason Nickel, the man behind the Brooks’ social media face, tweeted this lovely picture of a snowy 346 Madison Avenue only this morning.

For an old brand, it’s a whole new world – all over again.

So, what began as a small family business in New York City has grown into a global institution considered by many to be the very backbone of what defines American male fashion. Without hyperbole, we can state that virtually every notable element of classic Ivy League style was created by or introduced through Brooks Brothers.

Wardrobe staples like the two-button natural shoulder suit, the button-down polo collar oxford, madras, seersucker, the polo coat and repp tie all sprung to stylistic prominence because of Brooks. And behind the mahogany and leather façade is a remarkable story of determination and vision, channeled creativity and the sheer ability to survive in the cutthroat world of high-end retail.

Brooks Brothers is also one of those rare companies to have transcended its own history. While it is a long-lived haberdashery, celebrated as a maker and merchant of classic American style, it is also a cultural brand above and beyond the store itself; one that denotes taste, timeless fashion, classicism and heritage.

IN THE BEGINNING

The small shop that would become Brooks Brothers was officially born on April 7, 1818, when Henry Sands Brooks opened H. & D.H. Brooks & Co. at the corner of Catherine and Cherry Streets in New York City. The location was questionable and the firm’s prospects uncertain to say the least.

At the time, this part lower Manhattan, now sandwiched between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, was known more for roving livestock than sophisticated town gentlemen in search of a haberdasher. But Henry would not be deterred; he had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish. Against all odds, his guiding principle, “to make and deal only in merchandise of the finest quality; to sell it at a fair profit and to deal with people who seek and appreciate such merchandise,” would indeed drive the company’s philosophy for generations to come.

To be continued in Part 2…

    9 Comments

    1. Impatiently waiting for the rest, even though the majority of my clothing has a little guy playing polo or an alligator on it, Brooks Brothers is by far my favourite brand.

    2. […] Off the Cuff has compiled an extensive historical profile of one of fashion’s most historical retailers – Brooks Brothers. Here’s Part 1. Off the Cuff. […]

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