Just three months after being acquired by new owners, Brooks Brothers is off to a fresh start under the aegis of Ken Ohashi and Michael Bastian. The former is the venerable US apparel label’s new president, while the latter is its newly appointed creative director, following the departure of designer Zac Posen, who had been in charge of style since 2014.
Things have progressed rapidly at Brooks Brothers in recent months. The label has for some time been negatively affected by waning consumer interest in formal wear, and its profitability and financial situation worsened in the last few years. The situation was exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis and, in July, Brooks Brothers was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under US receivership law.
Less than two months later, the label was bought by Sparc, a joint-venture company set up by two major US corporations – apparel giant Authentic Brands Group (ABG) and real estate company Simon Property Group, which specialises in shopping malls – for $325 million. A bargain basement price for the two-hundred-year-old label, world-renowned for outfitting a number of US presidents, which in 2019 generated a revenue of $991 million.
Ohashi is a key figure within ABG. He spent 14 years at Aeropostale, one of the group’s leading brands, where he rose to the post of senior vice-president international. After ABG bought Aeropostale in 2016, Ohashi assumed increasingly senior roles within the US group, which specialises in licensed brands, and in the last two years he oversaw ABG’s international business.
To revive Brooks Brothers, Ohashi has called on New York designer Michael Bastian, who is well-versed in the codes of preppy-style, quintessentially American sportswear. Bastian was notably in charge of design at Swedish label Gant between 2010 and 2014. Before joining Brooks Brothers, Bastian, who was the former head of menswear at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman department store, and launched his own men’s ready-to-wear label in 2006, collaborated with British label Ted Baker.
He is now tasked with the delicate mission of modernising the Brooks Brothers wardrobe, featuring gold-buttoned navy blazers, classic button-down shirts (a style invented by the label in 1896), polos, madras shirts and club ties, with the objective of appealing to a younger clientèle.
Brooks Brothers’s new management has told the US press that the scope of the label’s relaunch is extensive, encompassing multiple strategies, such as focusing on sportswear and e-commerce, streamlining the product range into a single line, expanding the womenswear range, developing a junior line and introducing creative collaborations.
In parallel, Brooks Brothers wants to concentrate on its most profitable monobrand stores, without neglecting the wholesale channel, until now virtually untapped. Taking into account the restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic, the label currently has 165 stores active in the USA, and 436 abroad. Before the start of the crisis, Brooks Brothers closed down its three US-based production sites, and is now sourcing from suppliers in Italy, Egypt and Asia.