It's been barely a month since J. Crew filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, making it the first major retailer to fall during the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, an alarming number of fashion-related businesses have followed, including Neiman Marcus, Aldo, John Varvatos, JC Penney, and J. Hilburn. This month may lay claim on one of the largest men's clothiers. In a phone call that took place late last April, Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio del Vecchio allegedly told a group of senior executives that that company plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this June.
I first heard about the phone call last month while I was working on a story about how Brooks Brothers is planning to shutter all three of its US factories. Since finding the bigger headline, I've been interviewing former and current Brooks Brothers executives, who were willing to share the insider story of how the brand has found itself in this position. This morning, Business of Fashion published my feature. The story is about a lot more than the spread of Casual Friday or the coronavirus pandemic (although those certainly contributed to Brooks Brothers' downfall).
The situation stems from a massive network of long-term real estate leases, which stretch back to the 1980s. Under the leadership of Julius Garfinckel & Co., Brooks Brothers operated just 11 locations in 1971. By the time Marks & Spencer sold Brooks Brothers to Retail Brand Alliance in 2001, there were 155 stores and outlets in the US and Japan. Today, there are roughly 250 stores in the United States alone -- and nearly half of them are outlets. Of Brooks Brothers' full-line US stores, just 40 are responsible for 80 percent of sales. One executive told me that they could have closed over 100 locations and not seen much change in profits. The fall of Brooks Brothers ties together many things: the decline of tailored clothing, the challenges of running a brick-and-mortar business, and the difficulty of telling an American story during a globalized age. You can read my story over at Business of Fashion.Keep reading