Brooks Brothers – arguably the company to popularise ready-to-wear clothing across America – has had a rough few years. After closing up shop in various locales across the Asia-Pacific, the brand is getting some much-needed respite in the form of a reintroduction to Australia – where, as ever, there remains a strongly entrenched market for preppy clothing (authentic and otherwise) and U.S. heritage labels.
Best known for its 200-year legacy on Ivy League campuses and for dressing multiple presidents of the United States, Brooks Brothers’ Antipodean relaunch has been augmented by the arrival of a dedicated webstore and, more importantly, a new AW23 collection – helmed by none other than New York designer Michael Bastian.
For men’s clothing nerds who caught the bug during the Tumblr era, Bastian’s name will be familiar. Formerly of Polo Ralph Lauren and Gant, he went on to initiate his own namesake label in 2006. The brand’s sumptuous casualwear – incidentally, manufactured under licence by Brunello Cucinelli – and prep-tastic leaning garnered Bastian legions of fans; and in 2011 that all came to a head when he was awarded ‘Menswear Designer of the Year’ by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
On paper then, fewer designers would seem better qualified to work with Brooks Brothers than Bastian; for whom this AW23 collection is all about “very simple pieces” that play with unexpected proportion and colour. “The magic is in how it’s all put together,” says Bastian, “but the basic pieces never really change that much”. “That’s the beauty of this kind of classic American style.”
To wit, there’s no reinvention of the wheel occurring here. Instead what we suspect that Bastian is doing is to streamline prep (insofar as that is possible at a brand like Brooks Brothers, a paragon of inoffensiveness) for a new generation. There are of course the usual array of Ivy staples – beige Baracutas, Barbour-esque walking coats and the obligatory parade of tennis sweaters – but these are necessary cover for a few pieces that are more daring.
The new ‘Sherpa’ zip-ups and tartan overshirts reference (however obliquely) those designers who’ve pushed prep in an interesting, multitudinous direction over the years – you don’t need to be a fashion insider to see the obvious handiwork of guys like Teddy Santis (Aimé Leon Dore) and Jack Carlson (Rowing Blazers) – and though the innovations are, at present, only coming in at a trickling pace; a healthy commercial response could well see Brook Brothers’ fortunes revived.