21-Jun, 20:42

12:10, January 11 253 0

2018-01-11 12:10:04
Brooks Brothers Celebrates 200 Years With a Party — in Florence

Teddy Roosevelt wore Brooks Brothers to his inauguration. So, too, did Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant. Forty of the 45 United States presidents have patronized America’s oldest maker of men’s wear, the most famous among them surely Abraham Lincoln, who was dressed in a custom-made Brooks Brothers wool coat for his inauguration in 1865 to a second presidential term.

Double-breasted with trim tape outlining hem, lapel and a small ticket pocket, that coat had a lightly padded lining that was embroidered with an eagle motif and a motto. Had history played out differently, we would have little cause to remember what seems like a singularly Lincoln-esque detail about this simple garment: “One Country, One Destiny” stitched inside, to be worn against his narrow frame and known only to a few besides Lincoln’s tailor and the Great Emancipator himself. But, of course, it was that same Brooks Brothers coat that Lincoln selected one month later for an outing to Ford’s Theater, where he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

Here, amid the splendor of a gallery inside the Palazzo Vecchio, a replica of Lincoln’s coat hangs in a small vitrine, part of a modest exhibition culled from the Brooks Brothers extensive archive and brought to Florence to kick off a yearlong celebration of the brand’s 200th anniversary.

If there is a certain disjunction at the idea of a storied American label choosing the ancient seat of Renaissance power to begin its bicentennial, that is easily explained. Among the most recognizably American of brands, Brooks Brothers is owned by a private holding company run by an Italian businessman and heir to a multibillion-dollar fortune made in eyewear.

When Claudio Del Vecchio acquired Brooks Brothers from Marks & Spencer, the British retailer, in 2001 for the bargain price of $225 million (Marks & Spencer had paid more than three times that much), it was with the goal of reinvigorating a brand synonymous not only with the staples of American men’s wear but with innovation since Henry Sands Brooks opened his first store at the corner of Catherine and Cherry streets in Manhattan in 1818. “People don’t remember that, in his day, Brooks was a dandy,” Mr. Del Vecchio said in an interview here this week.

An entrepreneur credited with introducing the ready-to-wear suit to the American market, Mr. Brooks also laid the groundwork for innovations — sack suits, navy blazers, reverse-striped rep ties, button-down shirts, patchwork madras, seersucker suits — now so familiar we tend to forget they were ever new. “He was a disrupter and influencer,” Mr. Del Vecchio said of Mr. Brooks. “And we’re ready to start the disruption again.”

If it is unclear what exactly that might mean in a retail landscape increasingly dominated by e-commerce and stealth product drops, Mr. Del Vecchio seemed unconcerned. Repeating a phrase that has become his mantra when discussing Brooks Brothers, he said: “We’re not good because we’re old, we’re old because we’re good.”

That he has the resources to back up his goal of readying Brooks Brothers for another 100 years was made clear in the lavish celebrations laid on for the anniversary.

They began with a fashion show presented within the vast and deliriously gilded Salone dei Cinquecento of the city’s town hall, parts of which date to the 13th century. As a full orchestra played “Empire State of Mind,” 600 guests seated on ballroom chairs watched 53 male and eight female models parade past in clothes that were the stylist Andrea Mazzanti’s fairly reverent take on traditional Brooks Brothers codes.

“I cannot change the fundamentals,” Mr. Mazzanti said, of suits and sports clothes that cautiously updated familiar staples by shrinking their Cheever-esque sack proportions to accommodate a generation of presumably skinny millennials (and that pointedly avoided anything as outré as the stuff Thom Browne produced when he briefly designed for the brand.) “I can only give a few new ideas,” added Mr. Mazzanti, who formerly designed for Italian luxury labels like Loro Piana and Aspesi.

Resembling less a brand reset than a victory lap on home turf for the 61-year-old Mr. Del Vecchio, the event was an unabashedly lavish statement by a man who long labored under the shadow of his father, a self-made billionaire raised in an orphanage.

And it was the sort of event impossible to duplicate in any other locale. When the fashion show ended, the 150 guests lucky enough to have been invited to join in a celebratory dinner filed past enormous doors and through a series of hallways arrayed with Renaissance treasures.

Eventually they found themselves in the Hall of the Lilies where, with a string quartet playing, they dined on sous-vide lobster in a warm bean soup, gnocchi with truffles and roasted branzino against a backdrop of frescoes by the Renaissance painter Domenico Ghirlandaio depicting the lives of notable Romans.

Though a less New World evening it would have been hard to conjure, there was one small culinary nod to Brooks Brothers’ origins in what was then a relatively young democracy. Dessert was apple pie.