Zac Posen Gives Brooks Brothers a Glamorous NYFW Makeover

At NYFW, Posen revealed how he had transformed Brooks Brothers, formerly known for its office-to-country club attire, to something more globally inspired, while Kimora Lee Simmons mixed artistry and practicality.

Brooks Brothers

When designer Zac Posen was tapped to take over the womenswear line at Brooks Brothers in 2014, his plan wasn’t to overhaul the quintessentially preppy American brand. He just wanted to tweak it a little bit.

So it makes sense that he’s holding steady for his third season as creative director, having told the New York Observer that his inspiration for his most recent Spring/Summer 2017 collection is “celebrating the Brooks Brothers House codes and history.” But celebration in no way means stagnation.

On Wednesday, fashion insiders—and Katie Holmes, a close friend of Posen’s—filed into a studio in Chelsea overlooking the Hudson River. Two rows of lithe models stood on stepped risers against floor-to-ceiling windows as the room flooded with sunlight and soft music.

It was the perfect atmosphere to show off the fresh looks that take the line formerly known for its predictable office-to-country club attire to something more globally inspired.

Posen has kept with the brand’s tradition of providing the classics—hitting the marks of all the major silhouettes and combinations of offerings—but he has updated them with more stylish cuts and an emphasis on impeccable tailoring.

The new—or just slightly made-over—Brooks Brothers woman will now be making an entrance at work in looks like a softly pleated white skirt suit that managed to be both playful and elegant. There were, of course, pantsuits, but they were a touch more sophisticated with an emphasis on perfect tailoring and a stylish exploration of pant lengths and jacket buttons.

One particularly wonderful look was a tan and white twill skirt-suit with a hint of silver. The skirt had elongated pockets, and the jacket was buttoned all the way up with a colorful printed scarf knotted chicly around the model’s neck. A few numbers on the conservative side still jazzed up office wear, like in a knee-length, three-quarter-sleeved light blue dress that had a touch of white embroidery along the chest and a thin black belt around the middle.

But it’s not all work at Brooks Brothers. Things got breezy with more fun pieces like an off-the-shoulder maxi gown in a navy and light blue print, or a calf-length flouncy skirt with a soft blue, green, and gray stripe topped with a delicate eyelet lace sweater. There were several delightful new prints that added pops of color to the otherwise neutral palettes of soft whites, blues, tans, and blacks.

In addition to loosening up the classics, Posen is enlivening the accessories, particularly hats and handbags. The show’s press release details Posen’s inspiration as the “crisp, effortless elegance of Gloria Guinness as photographed by Cecil Beaton during the 1960s,” and the atmospheres of Newport, Rhode Island, to the glamorous shores of the Côte d’Azur.

Every handbag that a model primly held, every dashing hat could be seen in exactly these settings.

In addition to serving as the creative lead of Brooks Brothers, Posen also designs for two eponymous labels, one consisting mostly of elegant evening wear destined for the red carpet, while the other creates chic and trendy pret-a-porter.

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Each of his three lines offers a little something different for a slightly different customer, although the through lines of his design aesthetic are clear. He has elevated Brooks Brothers by staying true to its spirit and making it a better form of what it was always meant to be; he hasn’t just swooped in to create Brooks Brothers: Zac Posen.

“It’s the oldest American clothier, so that is exciting because it is an untapped opportunity to build on. It wasn’t like I was going into a collection that had been through multiple ideas on how it should look prior to my arrival. It hadn’t been bastardized. So it was kind of a clean slate and just an untapped opportunity,” Posen told Fortune in June 2016.

Consider the opportunity tapped.

Kimora Lee Simmons

There’s a chic ease and stylish elegance to the clothing designed by Kimora Lee Simmons. The launch of her eponymous label in 2015 came on the heels of years spent modeling and then running Baby Phat, the clothing company started by her now ex-husband Russell Simmons.

This intimacy with not only the artistry and business of design, but also the practicality of how clothes work and what they need to do and be for their wearers is apparent in each of the looks that walked through the backstage doorway at the Kimora Lee Simmons offices on Wednesday.

The presentation of her latest collection was an intimate affair, with guests milling around the perimeter of the room as a lively violinist gave some edgy class to the pop songs he accompanied: think Calvin Harris’s “This Is What You Came For” and “F*ck You” by CeeLo Green with a classical spin.

The looks were deceptively simple, staying mostly to color-blocking combos of white, black, and royal blue. But on closer inspection, interesting details continued to pop out.

Much of this was due to Simmons’s supreme craftsmanship when it comes to layering, wrapping, and folding fabric. One model wore a black dress with a tight mini black shell underneath and a loose baggy overlay alternating opaque black stripes and sheer fabric—creating an illusion of proportion and sexiness.

There was a sleek, calf-length blue dress with roses stamped into the fabric. The crossed straps over her bare back were blue stripes, and they wrapped seamlessly around the front to form a folded, kimono-like belt. A divine black blouse seemed to be a standard button-down from the front, but when the model turned, she revealed the back hung loose in something like a chic cape that had a delightful amount of movement.

Most of the collection tended toward the playfully elegant and walked the line between casual and cocktail. But one intriguing outlier was a two-piece matching shirt and long skirt combo that had a white organza base covered in a cascading waterfall of confetti-like fabric in shades of pinks and oranges.

The skirt started out whiter at the top and was a riot of pink at the bottom, while the shirt concentrated the colorful fabric pieces on the top, and became more sheer as they became scarcer towards the bottom. It was a look that could have come right off Carrie Bradshaw.

Simmons launched her label after she failed to find the versatile but still fashionable clothing that she needed to fit her own lifestyle. She prides herself on looks that can easily go from day-to-night, or, say, from brunch with girlfriends, to high-powered business meetings, to picking the kids up from school--albeit, at least with this latest collection, that must be a very chi-chi school).