Luxury brand, Brooks Brothers was established in Manhattan in 1818, and has become synonymous with American style for all the family. And it’s an aesthetic that’s worked, as impressively, the label holds the accolade of being the oldest apparel brand in continuous operation in America. That’s no mean feat.
Offering collections for men, women and children, expect a contemporary take on the classics — think every thing from dress shirts and cable knits to corduroy pants, pleated skirts, and twill two-pieces. For those special occasions, they’ll also provide you with a quintessential tux.
The man at the creative helm? Well, that’s Michael Bastian, an award-winning American designer who has had leading positions at the likes of Bergdorf Goodman as Men’s Fashion Director, and has collaborated with prominent brands such as GANT and UNIQLO. He also launched his namesake high-end menswear brand in 2005 which saw him being named CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year in 2011, and in 2016 he founded a more accessible contemporary line.
Michael Bastian, Creative Director of Brooks Brothers lets us in on his background, what luxury means to him, and the cornerstones of this heritage label.
Felicity Carter: What is your first memory of fashion?
Michael Bastian: My first memory of fashion is from preschool. I vividly remember a kid in my class wearing some kind of cowboy get-up with a bandana attached to it, and I became obsessed—begging my mom nonstop until she gave in and got me the same outfit. That was really my first step into this world.
FC: How would you sum up the aesthetic of Brooks Brothers?
MB: Brooks Brothers is and should always be the definitive source for classic heritage American style. It’s a brand that you can rely on for all the staples like perfect polo shirts, navy blazers, shetland sweaters, chinos, OCBD’s and on and on. The Brooks Brothers aesthetic is pretty much timeless, and though we don’t consider ourselves a trendy brand, we’ve been responsible for many trends & innovations over the last two hundred years. No other brand has the depth of history that Brooks Brothers has, and that always needs to be respected.
FC: What is luxury to you?
MB: Personally, I think luxury is more about experiences and feelings rather than specific things. It can include quality & rarity for sure, but it can also be about intangibles such as time – not wasting time or finding more time always feels pretty luxurious to me. What I know for sure is that luxury is not the same thing as expensive. I remember someone once saying, ‘the biggest luxury in the world is being able to read while laying on the grass on a summer day.’ That seems very hard to beat.
FC: Who is your customer?
MB: I think our customer is anyone that appreciates classic American style and real quality. The brand definitely has its super fans who pretty much only wear Brooks Brothers and consider us far more than a store—we’re really a part of their life, their history. But we also attract customers looking for high-quality staples in their wardrobes, such as cashmere turtlenecks, flannel suits, and more casual items. We will always be a destination for tailored clothing and formal wear, but sportswear is becoming significantly more important to the brand. This is just a natural reaction to how people dress for work these days. Basically, there’s room in everyone’s closet for something from Brooks Brothers.
FC: What are the cornerstones of Brooks Brothers?
MB: As the country’s oldest clothing retailer, there are certain items that our customers expect to always find at our stores, and on the web like the OCBD, tennis sweaters, the classic pea coat, boxer shorts, twin sets—the list goes on forever. It’s a big part of my job to make sure these items are always present and as perfect or true to the original as I can get them. But on top of that it’s always equally important to make sure the assortment always feels interesting and relevant. We also talk a lot about the importance of optimism in the collection.
FC: What is on your current mood board?
MB: We are about to launch our Spring/Summer 22, and my mood board is filled with images of two very different American Islands— Nantucket, where I spend a lot of time, and Palm Beach. These two places have some similarities but also very different energies. I love that Nantucket is more casual, washed down, and a little undone, and Palm Beach is more colorful, put together, and done up. Two American islands, two very cool yet distinct vibes that are very Brooks Brothers.
FC: Tell us about the process?
MB: Inspiration can come from so many places, like photos, films, the street – things that I remember and how I imagined. It’s all very fluid. We also do a lot of rifling through the archives here at Brooks Brothers — it’s always surprising to me how on-trend the brand has always been, but in its own way.
FC: Currently, what is your favorite pieces and how do you wear them?
MB: My favorite piece right now is the navy shetland sweater with embroidered horses all over it and corduroy elbows from Fall’ 21—my first collection for Brooks Brothers. It was inspired by the early photographic studies of animals in motion by Eadweard Muybridge — particularly his documentation of horse locomotion. I’m for sure my harshest critic, but I can’t find a single thing I’d change on this sweater, which doesn’t always happen.
FC: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given when it comes to handling the industry?
MB: This is a great question. The best advice I ever was given is it’s ok to personalize what we do as designers—if you personally want an item or feel something is missing from your wardrobe, you can be sure other people are looking for it as well. There’s a myth that we’re all designing for an ideal mystery customer when in reality, if we all just designed the product, we wanted to wear ourselves, we’d be much more successful in our jobs.
See the full collection on brooksbrothers.com.