Just what happens when a designer known for his so-called European flair partners with a quintessential American brand? Magic.
On Saturday, Brooks Brothers debuted their first women’s wear collection under the reins of American designer Zac Posen, who was hired as creative director in 2014.
The presentation was simple, taking place at the Brooks Brothers flagship store on Madison Avenue. But the looks were far from dreary.
Those who know Posen recognize him for perfectly tailored designs that straddle the line between classicism and sexiness, the latter of which is relatively absent from Brooks Brothers’ catalog of polos and pearls.
His cuts are edgy without being intimidating and have managed to keep celebrities like Beyoncé, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Rihanna knocking at his studio door since he launched his eponymous label in 2001.
“Alterations are the game changer when it comes to the perfect fit,” he told Glamour.
“The right tailoring can make any garment work for any body. And it can make you feel confident—especially when, these days, a lot of clothing is two-dimensional, but in real life every body is different, and women have curves.”
Disappointingly, Saturday’s presentation kept with a depressingly familiar Fashion Week battalion of stick-thin models.
They towered over the crowd on a platform in the center of the room, their sleek, slicked-down hairstyles mimicking the trend that’s been seen on the high-end runways as of late.
The designs themselves felt very high end—they were edgy in their prints and shapes (tartan, bright flowers, and bold stripes), while still keeping an air of country club WASP that is associated with the brand.
It felt as if the women wearing the clothes were sneaking away from their tennis lessons in Connecticut and heading straight to downtown Manhattan.
No Brooks Brothers collection would be complete without an ode to their iconic suits. The women’s versions were perfectly tailored and came in dark greens, light grays, and even a bleached-out blue.
Their cuts were varied, taking cues from Asian designs and the women’s power suit of the ’80s and ’90s, though Posen says the collection was heavily influenced by the Hamptons and Nantucket.
The Brooks Brothers of the past has never been known for dressing leading ladies on the red carpet, let alone the masses—according to the company, women’s clothing accounts for about 20 percent of their sales. The Posen makeover is a potential game changer for the label.
Until today Brooks Brothers was best-known for its menswear. The sartorial choice for both Wall Street financiers and presidential hopefuls, the label has dressed the majority of sitting presidents since Henry Sands Brooks founded the company in 1818.
At the time, Brooks billed his brand—then H. & D.H. Brooks & Co.—as a one-stop shop of makers and merchants when he opened shop at the corner of Catherine and Cherry Streets in New York City.
Florida had yet to become the 27th state, baseball had yet to become America’s favorite pastime, and the Statue of Liberty wouldn’t be erected for another 68 years.
Yet, the Brooks Brothers were already creating an American classic that would become a quintessential brand for centuries to come. They famously dressed Abraham Lincoln while expanding their business across the country, outfitting the nation’s elite like the Vanderbilts, Astors, and Morgans. They also provided soldier uniforms during the Civil War.
Today, the label boasts the title as the country’s oldest clothing retailer.
“We want to better ourselves and have another point of view,” Claudio Del Vecchio, chairman and CEO of Brooks Brothers, told WWD about the Posen-designed women’s line. “We already have a team in place, so he’s not going to be a designer, but a creative director. He’s someone we trust and admire for what he does, and he can add to what we’re already doing.”
The decision to hire a high-profile contemporary designer is a familiar move for the brand.
In 2007, Brooks Brothers enlisted acclaimed menswear designer Thom Browne to create an edgier look for the American label.
The result was an uber-lux Black Fleece collection, which was extremely successful. Browne ultimately stepped away late last year to focus on expanding his own brand.
Attaching Browne’s name helped draw the attention of the press and shoppers. Del Vecchio is confident the same will happen with Posen’s creations. After all, he has two eponymous collections—Zac Posen and ZAC Zac Posen—as well as a bridal gown collaboration with David’s Bridal. He’s also an official host for the hit television series Project Runway.
“This is our main women’s collection, and if I didn’t think he could deliver, I wouldn’t risk it,” Del Vecchio said. “It’s not for PR, but he’s a celebrity and I fully expect to get plenty of coverage and create traffic. But this is a business decision.”
Posen told The New York Times shortly after the brand announced his hire that he plans to focus a lot of attention on work wear, a category that he feels isn’t one “anyone is looking at” right now.
“It’s not about women dressing as men, which is how my mom tells me women dressed on Wall Street in the 1980s,” Posen said, “but we have a history of suiting and mixed separates that can be redeveloped from the inside out, for many different body types.”
Posen went on to say that the ability for a blank slate is what enticed him to the deal.
The Brooks Brothers women’s collection wasn’t known for anything other than bland, preppy forms and pieces, churning out the same basics year after year.
Zac Posen has changed all that. The only, extremely fundamental question remaining is, will Brooks Brothers’ female customers welcome his radical makeover?