By  on January 29, 2014

ROME — “Listen to the brand.”

That’s the one piece of advice Claudio Del Vecchio, chairman and chief executive officer of Brooks Brothers Group Inc., treasures, and the one he relies upon for the expansion of the storied label.

“When I bought the company, I received piles of letters from customers and clients with suggestions for the future of Brooks Bros. One said I should listen to the brand, and that’s what I tried to do,” he said. Sitting comfortably in the company’s new flagship in Rome, surrounded by antique books and blue and white vases, Del Vecchio said he’s been “letting go of the reins” a bit, and hinting at an expansion that is “self-generating.”

Del Vecchio has been instrumental in the revamp of the brand he bought in 2001, mapping out strategies to develop it outside its main markets in the U.S. and Japan.

While acknowledging Italy’s lackluster economy, Del Vecchio is keen to provide the right space and service to customers in Rome. “I wanted to come to Rome to sell to the Romans,” explained the executive, honoring “the Roman family,” a longtime customer of Brooks Bros., available at multibrand stores in the city for years. Del Vecchio pointed to a web of customers including politicians and Cinecittà actors.

“I’m not worried about Italy, given that this is the Eternal City — with our own 200 years,” quipped Del Vecchio, pointing to the brand’s milestone anniversary in 2018. “Long term, this is absolutely the right decision. In the short term, the market is difficult but this is an opportunity. If it were a moment of boom, it would be more difficult and costly to find the right spaces,” remarked Del Vecchio.

Del Vecchio was aiming at finding a space overlooking the exclusive shopping haven in the San Lorenzo in Lucina Square. Located in Via del Leoncino, which opens on the square, the flagship is placed opposite the Bottega Veneta boutique and near those of Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Pomellato. It covers 3,240 square feet over three floors and carries the brand’s men’s and women’s lines, Red Fleece, Black Fleece and Su Misura. The company conservatively restored the unit, situated in an antique building, recovering stuccoed ceilings, wooden beams and cotto floors, offset by the brand’s staple cherrywood displays and precious brocade fabrics. “We try to maintain the brand consistency around the world, respecting the original architecture of the venues while integrating the Brooks Bros. imagery,” said Del Vecchio.

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All told, Brooks Bros. operates 18 company-owned stores, 33 franchise stores — seven of which are freestanding — 23 shops-in-shop and three outlets in Europe. Europe currently accounts for 5 percent of sales and includes units in London, Edinburgh, Milan and Paris, among others. Recent openings include shops in Milan and Bologna, and flagships in Madrid and Istanbul. “Turkey is growing,” said Del Vecchio. “But we have three new fantastic spaces.”

The 885-square-foot Madrid unit opened in October at 14 Calle de Serrano and is one of many stores the retailer expects to open in that region. “In the whole EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] region, and more particularly in Europe, there is still room to grow,” said Luca Gastaldi, president of Brooks Brothers Europe. “In the capitals of this area, growth has been strong, thanks to the single-brand stores and distribution agreements. The goal is to become stronger and stronger, taking the example from the United States and Japan — markets where Brooks Bros. is mature and well founded.”

The Istanbul unit opened in November and is operated through a licensing partnership with RMK Classic Dress Co. The 984-square-foot store is located in the Zorlu Center.

The company is now looking at additional sites in Germany, Switzerland and Sweden, according to Del Vecchio. In addition, Brooks Bros.’ first store in Australia is set to open in February in Brisbane. The company plans to open six stores in that region by the end of the year.

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