"To make only the merchandise of the finest quality and to deal with people who seek and appreciate such merchandise." That motto from 1818 lives today in fantastic pieces for gentlemen from Brooks Brothers.Martha Taylor-Brown ▼ Saturday August 22, 2009 6:01PM ET
Brothers that survived wars and fashion trends
On April 7, 1818 Henry Sands Brooks opened H. & D.H. Brooks & Co. on the Northeast corner of Catherine and Cherry Streets in New York City. Brooks Brothers introduced the first ready-to-wear suits in America. Pioneers of the 1849 California Gold Rush, unable to wait on the whims of a tailor, flocked to Brooks Brothers to pick up ready-made clothing.
After the death of Henry Sands Brooks in 1833, control of the company was assumed by his eldest son, Henry, Jr. In 1850, Henry's sons Daniel, John, and Elisha inherited the family business, and Brooks Brothers was born. Then the Golden Fleece symbol was adopted as the company's trademark. A sheep suspended in a ribbon had long been a symbol of British woollen merchants. Dating from the 15th century, it had been the emblem of the Knights of the Golden Fleece, founded by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. In ancient Greek mythology, a magical flying ram, or Golden Fleece, was sought by Jason and the Argonauts.
From the company's founding, Brooks Brothers distinguished itself through the excellent workmanship found in both its custom and ready-made clothing. Being both "Makers and Merchants" gave Brooks Brothers absolute control over its offerings, and ensured its customers of the highest quality apparel. In 1949, Brooks Brothers finally devoted a small corner of the store to a woman's department. Vogue Magazine featured the pink button-down shirt for women, creating an overnight fashion sensation.
Throughout much of the 20th century, Brooks Brothers enjoyed an exclusive licensing agreement with the distinguished London firm of Peal & Company. Peal had built custom-made shoes for Lord Wellington, Winston Churchill, and Fred Astaire. When Peal went out of business in 1965, Brooks purchased the name, as well as Peal’s lasts and patterns. By 1969, there were ten Brooks Brothers stores which were located in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. This was the beginning of Brooks Brothers' store expansion.
Brooks Brothers introduced a new department, Brooksgate, featuring tailored clothing designed especially for the young executive. Named to suggest, as one executive noted, "the entrance into the company," it was a hugely successful department.
Like many things American, Brooks Brothers was very well received in Japan. Their flagship store in Aoyama opened in 1979, spreading classic American style across continents. By 1997, sixty-two stores accompanied it. In April 1988, the venerable British department store chain Marks & Spencer purchased Brooks Brothers. A 7 million dollars restoration took place at the Madison Avenue flagship store.
Brooks Brothers entered the world of e-commerce in the late Nineties, taking the successful catalogue on-line and their website was recognized as one of the top ten apparel websites. Brooks Brothers opened a second flagship store in New York City in 1999. Located on the prime site of Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street, the new 23,500 square foot Brooks Brothers store represents a major concept and design statement in the revitalization of the company.
During their remarkable history Brooks Brothers has survived world wars and civil wars, changes in American economics and government, as well as the even more direct threats of constantly evolving fashion trends. Today Brooks Brothers continues to uphold its reputation as an institution based on heritage and value, a commitment to quality, and extraordinary customer relationships. ■