Skyrocketing unemployment and huge federal bailouts do not characterize the ideal environment for opening a designer store, but Brooks Brothers and guest designer Thom Browne’s Black Fleece line defies expectations. After long delays, the eponymous store is now open, showcasing the collaboration’s designs for both men and women.
The idea for the team-up began more than two years ago, when Claudio Del Vecchio, Chairman and CEO of Brooks Brothers, thought of inviting a guest designer to sift through the company’s archives to develop an even more up-market line of clothing. The goal was to come up with new variations of Brooks Brothers’ 190-year tradition of clothing.
Browne was an obvious choice. “The partnership with the iconic American brand has been a dream collaboration for me,” Browne stated in a press release. “I am very proud of what Black Fleece has become and look forward to the coming seasons.” The designer’s dedication to the company is no secret, and his innovative changes to the menswear silhouette—shortening the pant legs, bringing the jacket up—still retain the sense of traditionalism found in Brooks Brothers designs. “When you look at the collection and look at the individual pieces, the Black Fleece line is not flashy,” Louis Amendola, Chief Merchandising Officer for Brooks Brothers, says. “It can be a little more extreme, but it is very classic, with an updated twist.”
And there’s no better place than the West Village to put a store which combines modern and traditional aesthetics. The neighborhood still has the scars left over from the ’60s, but sports cars lining the streets and upscale boutiques suggest a more contemporary influence. “The store is our way of testing the concept outside of Brooks Brothers and see how the customer responds to a free standing environment,” Amendola explains.
Like the line itself, the store is not ostentatious. There is no sign visible from the street, but there doesn’t need to be—Browne’s trademark slim fit suits with extra short pant legs hang on mannequins in the windows, begging you to come inside for a closer look. Silly smooth jazz greets you on the inside, as well as several eager sales reps. “The fact is, it’s such a great value,” Edward Sadovnik, the store’s General Manager, notes. “Every garment comes with free tailoring, and you can take a piece home and a week later you can find a detail you didn’t notice. It’s a beautifully made garment.”
Naturally, this quality and allure has already had a beneficial impact. Even after less than two weeks, Amendola boasts: “We’ve been able to meet or exceed our sales plan everyday.” It’s easy to understand that the people at Black Fleece are protective of their initial success—the fashion world has suffered as much as the finance industry from the economic crisis. Fortunately, at Black Fleece, things are going well, and no one expects the momentum to halt anytime soon.
“Obviously everyone is scared,” Amendola concedes. “But we do believe there will always be room in every economy for designer clothes.”
Shop address: 351 Bleecker Street, New York.