By and  on August 27, 2007

NEW YORK — Will the sales match the hype? That inevitable question is about to be answered.

After months of press and preparation, Thom Browne's Black Fleece collection for Brooks Brothers will make its debut on the sales floor on Sept. 10, meaning the financial success or failure of the line will soon be measurable. "Now it comes down to ringing the register," said Lou Amendola, Brooks Bros.' chief merchandising officer.

Initial projections call for Black Fleece to add $10 million to Brooks Bros.' $800 million in annual sales. The collection of men's and women's wear, which will be carried in 30 U.S. stores as well as six units overseas, will be the retailer's most expensive offering. Prices for Black Fleece will average some 30 to 40 percent higher than traditional Brooks Bros. merchandise. For example, the top suit price in the Golden Fleece collection is $1,900, while Black Fleece suits will range from $2,700 to $2,900.

Brooks Bros. already has tried out the collection in a trunk show held Aug. 21 to 23 on the sixth floor of its Madison Avenue flagship here. Between 40 and 50 customers made personal appointments with Thom Browne each day. This was an opportunity for customers to buy pieces from the first delivery as well as preorder for the later fall deliveries.

"We were very pleased with women's reactions to the collection," said Amendola. "We saw many of our existing customers as well as many new ones. Women typically bought head-to-toe looks. There was very little price resistance as she really appreciated the quality and construction of the clothes with their full canvas construction and handmade detailing."

Bestsellers included a sleeveless pencil button back dress in herringbone wool, priced at $1,500; a double-breasted herringbone pantsuit, priced at $2,300 for the jacket and $800 for the pants; a dove grey cashmere coat dress with a grey flannel and voile accordion pleated skirt, at $1,900 and $1,800; a long cashmere cardigan sweater, $1,000, and a pleat-front high-waist skirt in navy pinstripe wool, $900. There were also several preorders on a Donegal tweed pantsuit with "fleece" embroidery, $2,900 and $1,500.

As for men's, "the reaction has been very, very strong," said Amendola. He noted that on the first day of the preview sales of Black Fleece on its own equaled the daily sales goal of the entire Madison Avenue store. He declined to provide a figure. In addition, on the second day of the preview, the top sales associate in the store was a Black Fleece associate.

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