Does Brooks Brothers really need to be reinvented?


When the new owners Authentic Brands Group brought Brooks Brothers out of bankruptcy in August 2020 and named Michael Bastian as the brand’s new creative director a few months later, it seemed like a nostalgic, even conservative move. Bastian built his successful eponymous label during the golden age of #menswear, hacking menswear codes with cheeky prepsters like Gant, Mark McNairy and Thom Browne – but Gant and McNairy no longer produce regular collections, while Browne has become a preeminent name in a fluid gender dressing. And although Bastian’s clothing was once a basketball favorite, the pre-game tunnel is now dominated by luxury streetwear from brands such as Kapital, Balenciaga and Fear of God. (Amusingly, Jerry Lorenzo’s line, which mixes luxury couture with sportswear, might be Bastian’s true heir.) Preppiness, in general, has taken a funky turn, as practitioners moderns attempt to reconcile its troubling past with our more political politics. conscious present.

Amidst all these changes, Bastian was in charge of Brooks Brothers and fired steadily. He’s designed five collections so far, but due to lead times and supply chain issues, only his first, Fall 2021, has reached stores; Spring 2022 began to land last week. All have been suitably, even uber preppy. The complete Spring 2022 offering was inspired by two snapshots of Wasp, Palm Beach and Nantucket vacation life, and includes double-breasted jackets, plaid blazers with bow ties, oxford shirts, fun shirts and a madras anorak with seersucker cuffs. There are whimsical prints and lots of seersucker. In other words: the age-old Brooks Brothers prep you, your dad, and his dad all remember, presented (mostly) without irony.

That’s the point, Bastian said in a video call late last year. When he entered into discussions with the Brooks team, he recalled that he started his eponymous line “to do those things that I missed at Brooks Brothers that they no longer did”, meaning shirts bengal stripes, tennis sweaters, oxford fabrics. shirts, wide chinos. In other words: “Very simple, fundamental things. Maybe they’re not the hottest right now, but they still have to be around. That kind of baseline of reliability is really important for a brand like Brooks Brothers. This is how Levi’s always has 501 or five-pocket lanyards. Or an antidote to how the designer of your favorite t-shirt might not having these things all of a sudden, for some reason. He wanted to build his Brooks around things that, if a brand stops making them, it “feels like a betrayal”.

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Extra-preppy looks from Brooks’ spring collection.

Courtesy of the Brooks Brothers.

Courtesy of the Brooks Brothers.

It all sounds good. But since we live in a world where brands like Aimé Leon Dore and Noah have reimagined preparation and sportswear for the contemporary young man, it would be fair to wonder if Bastian is reinventing things enough.

But Bastian doesn’t see himself as the imported creative dynamo to bring his haute couture to a beleaguered brand. Instead, he sees his role as something completely different, egoless and more about the product. He thinks obsessively about the customer, follows his comments on Instagram and his habits on the Brooks Brothers online store. “I just think – and maybe it’s because I’m at this point in my life and my career -[that] I don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said in a video call last month. “Like, that Oxford cloth shirt is perfection. All I have to do is protect it and make sure it’s there in its highest form. Same with the anachronisms of style like garters and button-back boxers. Brooks Brothers, he knows, is home to “all those crazy little menswear things that a lot of guys love. And we’re the latest place to do it.”

“As a designer, you have to put yourself in the mindset that the brand is bigger than you,” he continued. “I’m very comfortable with it. The brand is over 200 years old. It will last long after me, all of us. The best I can do is keep it relevant, keep it on track, tweak the icons, make it more Brooks Brothers.

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