New York Times Critical Shopper: "Outfitters to Presidents, Preppies, Me" February 22nd 2007
you can read the article with its nice photos .
346 Madison Avenue (44th Street);
ATMOSPHERE Cigar Aficionado without the jerks.
SERVICE An abundance of salespeople eager to help, and they hide their on-commission
urgency well. Most seem knowledgeable and don’t make judgments, even if you’re a made-to-measure newbie.
HIGHLIGHTS Special offers and seasonal sales sometimes bring the prices into H&M range. (Next up: a spring-summer sale after Father’s Day and special offers in the made-to-measure departments until April 21.)
THE last time I was at Brooks Brothers, 23 years ago, my mom took me there to be fitted for a suit during her You Need Some Nice Clothes campaign. I remember her tugging at my cuffs while I stood there humming the Go-Go’s to myself. Not much has changed. I have “Vacation” on my iPod, and I still need nice clothes.
These days, with Club Monaco and Zara everywhere, Brooks Brothers is not the first place I think of shopping, and I am not alone. A good number of men like me have forsaken fine tailoring to rush to H&M right before a wedding or job interview to get our fitted shirts and ready-made suits without ever taking out our ear buds. (Guilty as charged.)
I wouldn’t mind getting out of my insta-blazer habits, but Brooks Brothers, I assumed, was for someone different — i.e., rugby-shirted fraternity guys buying ties for their internships at Skadden, Arps. Not exactly my scene, but I was willing to give it a try.
Brooks Brothers has seen much more than the Preppie Revolution. On its Web site there is a timeline describing its first store in 1818, and how it introduced American men to argyle socks and seersucker suits, and outfitted Abe Lincoln with the famous long coat for his 1865 inauguration (which, unfortunately, he also wore to Ford’s Theater a few months later, the site says).
The flagship, which has been in its Midtown location since 1915, is a five-floor emporium of mother-approved Nice Clothes. The first floor is grand as a bank, lined with dark wood shelving and tables of cascading cravats ($59 to $98) and button-fronts ($75 to 118) in hundreds of combinations. An overabundance of nattily dressed salespeople hover everywhere offering assistance.
This old-fashioned vibe is new, in a way. During the Age of Gap in the mid-1990s, the owners at the time, the British clothier Marks & Spencer, decided the store needed to modernize and ordered many of its fixtures thrown out. Luckily, much of the “old” Brooks Brothers was squirreled away, and when Retail Brand Alliance bought the brand in 2001, the original chandeliers returned along with other historical objects, including two large carved wood statuary lamps at the base of the stairs.
Simultaneously Brooks sought to update the brand, offering online custom shirts, for example, as well as hiring Thom Browne, the men’s designer with the serious dapper fetish, to create a line of suits that will be unveiled in September.
The renewed historical infusion sometimes backfires. At the back of the first floor, you will find a strange sleepwear section neatly hung with pajamas ($75), nightshirts ($69) and fluffy bathrobes ($148). The area was sparsely attended when I was there, but it will probably have more customers once we figure out a way to clone Spencer Tracy.
Then on the second floor there is the creepy boy’s section, which had little headless mannequins in premium polos ($39.50), rugby shirts ($49.50) and a precocious leather pilot jacket for $148. They seemed to whisper, “Nyah, nyah, you’ll never have a hedge fund.”
The rest of the floor is dedicated to sportswear and swings back to a preppie vibe of pink and blue argyle sweaters. Visiting during the fall sale, I found some nice $148 wool sweaters marked 50 percent off.
I felt calmer on the third floor, which is devoted to sport coats, blazers and dress trousers. A friendly salesman showed me what remained on sale in a 38. (He guessed my size correctly with one sideways glance.) Between blazers in a Christmasy tartan meant for drunk retirees named Bing, I found a great two-button blazer in an understated Harris tweed. At 40 percent off, it came to $298, plus $60 for fitting.
If I did have a hedge fund, or an index fund or even just a fund, I would have bought a beautifully soft dark-blue Loro Piana cashmere blazer for $998, on sale at the time for 25 percent off.
I WAS prepared to invest in a custom-made shirt, though, and approached the digital tailoring center, at the back of the third floor, to order the garment based on precise three-dimensional measurements taken by computer.
First I chose a muted blue and gold check pattern from books of fabric swatches provided by Sandra Macaya, who has been working in the department since its inception five years ago. I selected stitching, collar, cuff and placket styles. (I suggest bringing a friend with scrupulous fashion opinions to help.) Prices are based on the expense of the fabric, running from $150 to $350; my Egyptian cotton weave cost $180.
Ms. Macaya then led me to the digital measuring room, a shed-size chamber lined with dark carpeting and two hinged handles affixed on opposite walls. She handed me pair of gray stretch shorts and socks wrapped in cellophane (you get to keep them!) and closed the door.
Mostly nude in my little stretchy outfit, I held on to the handles as flashes of light striped down my body, casting a silhouette on the wall. I was told that the light emissions, which last about 12 seconds, create 200,000 data points that register every curve of your body as if on a giant photocopier. If something went horribly wrong and I emerged with superpowers, I could be fitted for my costume right away.
When I left the booth, Ms. Macaya was ready with a digital printout. (I looked more like a Botero figure than Wolverine.) The computer had calculated some 40 measurements, including bicep, inseam, outseam and wrist. Ms. Macaya double-checked the more pertinent ones to refine the fit. “The computer is exact but can’t decide human preference or taste,” she said. Her eye seems to have more data-point receivers than a machine in that respect.
I will pick up my shirt in three to four weeks, so I left the store empty-handed. That was O.K. with me because it played into the patient, fine tailoring aesthetic Brooks Brothers is striving to embody. You can’t just download a fine-fitting shirt from iTunes. Yet.