In the last few years, new brands like Noah, Rowing Blazers and Aime Leon Dore have found ways to tweak preppy style and bring it into alignment with the streetwear era. Meanwhile, the traditional home of preppy style, Brooks Brothers—at 203 years old, the oldest apparel brand in continuous operation in the United States—has been through some turmoil. The company filed for bankruptcy in July 2020 and appointed a new CEO, Ken Ohashi, and a new creative director, the menswear designer Michael Bastian. Now Brooks Brothers is trying to catch up with Bastian’s inaugural sportswear collection, which is previewed on their Instagram this week. They lead with the notion, “We are moving forward by looking back.”
Even though sportswear accounted for 27 percent of Brooks Brothers sales last year and will be close to 40 percent next year, it’s never really come naturally to the brand. Ohashi told WWD that he hopes the new collection will change why consumers shop at Brooks Brothers, going beyond an occasional destination for dress shirts or suits into more of an everyday/weekend-wear retailer, in the realm of a Vineyard Vines or a J. Crew.
Bastian hit the Brooks Brothers archives for inspiration, and the collection comprises several “stories” informed by East Coast back-to-school nostalgia, Eadweard Muybridge’s turn-of-the-century photographs of horses, and a Wyoming dude ranch started by Winthrop Brooks, grandson of founder Henry Sands Brooks.The collection, which is rolling out for purchase between now and October, leans on the preppy pillars of corduroy, cashmere, and tweed; think quirky equestrian motifs, silk scarves tied under zip-up hoodies, and tonal mix-and-match three-piece suiting.
On the menswear side, there are no signs of baggy suiting or other trendy streetwear silhouettes; lines are clean, pant legs are straight, tailoring is tight. However, some trendier offerings—including more novelty sweaters, color-blocked oxford “fun shirts,” a shearling jacket, and a bright yellow parka—are on the way. The womenswear feels a bit more ambitious, a bit more Princess Diana-core, with plenty of equestrian and menswear-inspired fits.
For a heritage brand like Brooks Brothers, there’s power in consistency. As GQ‘s Cam Wolf wrote on Bastian’s appointment back in December, “His reappearance as the new creative director of Brooks Brothers feels like another harbinger that dressing up is coming back with full force.” This first collection delivers on that promise, but the question is whether it goes far enough—one imagines this trawl through the archives may appeal to stalwart fans of the brand, but whether it will pull in those who’ve had their heads turned by the new wave is another question.