Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Brooks Brothers Flatiron

Last Fall, our favorite pair of Brothers launched a concept brand that directly targets the youngest, newest generation of tradsters and prepsters, the very same consumers as you and me. Flatiron (perhaps named for the iconic Flatiron building in NYC, which itself alludes to a clothes iron, for a time gone by before treated non-iron fabrics) directly competes with Ralph Lauren's Rugby brand, launched a few years prior in 2004, so much so that visiting either storefront feels like walking into a continual loop of relic Ivy League black&white photos, cracked aromatic leather chairs, and collegiate artifacts.

I have no qualms with a nearly 200 year old cornerstone establishment evolving to catch the sartorial imaginations of yet another generation of young men and women. Back in the early 20th century, Brooks Brothers targeted the college man with trunk shows, bringing the newest fashions to campus and helping to create the newest campus styles (giving rise to the TNSIL).  A century later, Flatiron hopes to capture the same kinds of tastes of our more challenging to grasp, ever-changing group of Echo Boomers. Unfortunately, Brooks Brothers fails to realize that by diffusing into the more hipper side of things, they alienate the position of what they're already known for: classic timeless style. It just so happens that the young collegiate man that gravitates towards tradom and Brooks Brothers doesn't care about fake rugby patches and graphic t-shirts with pre-distressed insignias. We want to dress like young refined gentlemen, not like middle school boys. I donated my Abercrombie and American Eagle rags years ago. Let those 140lb pretend Ruckers buy overpriced rugby polos, and let the younger men ready to rise above their fellow average-ers quilt their cloths to the blanket of distinguished tapestry that Brooks Brothers Senior has always blanketed upon polished men. Men in their early to mid 20s are in a state of transition, and those attracted to wearing the likes of Brooks Brothers and J Press want to dress like our fathers to earn our new maturity and to garner respect as we set foot into our chosen careers and life paths. We are not necessarily the type that wants to fight against tradition; we don't need to experiment with fringe modern styles that replace tried-and-true standards. The greatest benefit of trad and prep are the inherent idioms of proven reliability that makes the style so great, and its classic image on a 20-something signifies that he is ready for the world's variability and challenges as a recent adolescent-turned-adult convert.

Brooks Brothers shouldn't lower its standards, and instead push forward the continual teachings of authentic classic men's wear that has been taught for generations past. In essence: Let today's younger generation come to you, not the other way around. Sell and campaign to us imagery of proper fitting, non-overbearing logoed shirts tucked into slim chinos, a clean preppy staple look, and save the awful "athletic meet formal" mismatched rebellious thought process that says our generation needs to change things up. Again, those souls are the type that shop from H&M or still buy from Hollister Co, and they will never fit into your target population. The modern Brooks Brothers man is still just that, a Brooks Brothers man. A tradster. A prepster. A Yuppie. Tell me, exactly when would anyone past the age of 19 have the occasion to ever wear a t-shirt with a fake printed undone bowtie? The young guys predisposed to true trad and prep would never wear that, and would much rather adorn a simple polo or OCBD instead. The average-ers think of Old man style as boring and plain, but we see it as tasteful for the ever shrinking class of professionals. Which in itself has become today's backlash statement. A return to domestic goods. A return to "old man" anything. 1960s. Mad Men. The Impossible Cool. High ideals. James Dean wearing a simple white tee. Not a logo shirt whoring out the brand. It has come to the point that choosing to conform to the American Dream has become a rebellious statement in itself. And that's how I see myself, and hope you the reader, as well.

Not to say Rugby and Flatiron are terrible concepts. I definitely like the attention to detail and modern fits, and personally have a few items from Rugby and can see myself buying from Flatiron. Again, there is no problem with going for a new direction to garner attention and build brand loyalty. But its the over-saturation of "forward thinking" fashion appeal that leaves the distaste, especially with thinking that has false approval in terms of actual daily wear. Can you really see yourself wearing Red Wing boots with suits, or a sweatshirt under a blazer paired with cargo pants and penny loafers? Too cataloge photo-op, not enough realism. The 23 year old intern will choose something more grounded, no? And to reinforce my feelings: stop the graphic shirts. Just stop it.

I like Flatiron's stores, and naturally Rugby's as well. Sure, the over projection of mid century Ivy League mouthful can be rather "Okay, we get it...It's the past meeting the present shtick!" but it is visually fun to set foot into for those of us who don't eat at Hogwarts for breakfast everyday. As you can infer, there are some hits and misses. The introduction of the Cambridge Fit for example is cool, which to be honest, I have no idea what differentiates it from the still new Milano Fit, but it's comforting to know that there are sizes for every taste and body type which Brooks has earned my highest approval for, whereas just a decade ago, they only offered fits ranging from Balloon to Blimp. Cons would be the styling choices as explained in my diatribe above, and the expensive prices. I feel like only the 1 percenters of New England prep academy alumnni can afford this stuff at full price. And to hell if I'm investing in a $600 sport coat made in Thailand.

I was excited to see that Brooks Brothers was coming to a nearby mall this Fall. Then I was slightly disappointed to see that instead of a Brooks retail location, a Flatiron had opened up in its place. This location is situated minutes away from Duke and UNC and nearby NC State universities. And of note, Rugby had opened on Franklin St. in the UNC town of Chapel Hill when the brand launched a few years ago, but that location had since closed down. Possibly because of the prices. Or possibly because the Tar Heel fratters preferred their Carolina Blue OCBDs to their over-branded skull and bones. We'll see if Flatiron can seize their targeted market this time around. But I have a feeling it may be a miss yet again.  (I have only visited once, but it was during prime shopping hours on a Saturday. The store had been open for about two weeks now. I saw a young preppy brother and sister, probably just freshmen in high school, getting Mom and Dad to buy a few polos. This was the only purchase during my 20min spy infiltration.) ((And another thing I noticed: I was dressed much preppier than the sales force. At least the team members at JCrew look like they just stepped out of the catalog. I saw one brand rep wear baggy jeans from what looked like the Backstreet Boys era. I don't expect you to wear Brooks denim the cost of a whole paycheck, but at least get some slim dark 514s to match the fashion you are selling! /elitist ))

My friend and I took a trip to the brand new Flatiron at my local mall. Here are the outdoor front and side store views. Notice the Signature Repp and Argyle & Sutherland stripes on the awnings. 

Inside the store.

A miss in my opinion; no need for the 1818 (nor the logo on a sweater for that matter).

Fitting room. 

Shoe rack. Red Wings, Rancourts, Allen Edmonds-made Brooks Brothers branded

Preppy women.

They had some clothing items from Brooks' official collegiate collection, with OCBDs with Duke and UNC trademarks, but low and behold the fraudulent-in-the-name-of-fashion-and-brand-allusion offerings of Columbia and Yale universities, offered as a stock item in this Fall's collection. The ultimate faked orgasm of all. If I went to said Ivy League institutions, I'd be pissed that some kid in North Carolina can wear my alma mater, supposedly distressed over years of wear, in the namesake of appearing like a true Ivy academic. Forge your way into preppy authenticity! Become a true prep by visiting your very own local Flatiron today!

Copy of the Manhattan map of all of BB's original locations in New York City, commissioned in 1874. The cabinet holds leather and personal grooming goods. And that's me! Barbour Liddy, BB Clark Advantage Chinos (cuffed to no break), and AE Waldens. Not pictured is a BB red university stripe OCBD tucked in with my Volunteer Traditions motif state belt.

Checkout in the background looks like a bar.

With all the rage of collaborations and special collections, our other granddaddy on the family tree, Jacobi Press, is jumping into the neo-prep arena with the upcoming York Street. I like to think they won't shift too far from their niche, but with unimpressive past collabs with Urban Outfitters, I'm not as hopeful. Flatiron, Rugby, York Street, the new Gant, LL Bean Signature, Lands End just keeps on escalating....