Case Study: Brooks Brothers on the Cutting Edge
Just before I sat down to write this, The New York Times reported the death of yet another beloved—albeit little known—boutique institution, Gorsart Clothes. The downtown Manhattan men’s clothier had served the Wall Street community since 1921.
In the words of Times writer Sherri Day,
The last straw may have been the advent of casual Fridays—and Thursdays and Wednesdays—which eliminated much of the need for the crisply tailored suit and the power tie.
Where Gorsart was unable to change with the times, another great New York men’s clothier, Barney’s, changed too much—only to be taken over by its creditors in 1996. Founded in 1923 by Barney Pressman, who hocked his wife’s engagement ring to pay for the lease and fixtures, Barney’s found its way into the hands of two of Pressman’s grandsons. As Larry Light wrote in Business Week,
In 1989 the bon vivant Gene and his more retiring younger brother, Bob, enlisted a Japanese partner, retailer Isetan Co., and blew millions of Isetan’s funds on a push to build a nationwide presence. But the Pressmans’ snob appeal didn’t work. Worse, they spent like drunken tailors: The Madison Avenue Store was aesthetically magnificent but, because of out-of-control construction costs, economically stupid. Trusting to their own creative genius to keep success rolling, the third Pressman generation never bothered to computerize and track where all the bucks were going. . .
The Old Brooks Brothers
When I was growing up on Long Island, every year around Labor Day my mother would drive me into Manhattan for our yearly purchase at Brooks Brothers—a blue serge suit for “dress-up” occasions, such as the first day of school, church, dancing class, weddings and funerals. As a kid, I found the decor of the 10-story flagship store at Madison Avenue and 44th Street stuffy, with its dark wood paneling, heavy glass merchandise cases and the immaculately tailored salesmen who were so unctuously attentive. For over a century, Brooks Brothers has been New York’s premier emporium for men and boys to buy suits and related accessories—shirts, ties, socks and shoes.