BEVERLY HILLS — Tommy Hilfiger’s Neoclassic architecture seems to suit Brooks Brothers just fine.
Most of the elements of 468 North Rodeo Drive, the address Hilfiger shuttered three years ago, are still intact as the largest retail unit on the drive quietly reopened its doors as a Brooks Brothers flagship last week.
It fits the 185-year-old brand’s image, according to Claudio Del Vecchio, president and chief executive of Enfield, Conn.-based parent, Retail Brand Alliance.
“We didn’t want to go in and change the building too much because we loved it the way it was,” he said. Real estate sources estimate a fresh coat of paint, new fixtures, mahogany wood details and furnishings set the company back $4 million, significantly less than a full-scale renovation. Annual rents are steep enough. The 22,000-square-foot, two-level space costs between $240 and $300 a foot, they said.
But the changes are significant enough for Del Vecchio. “It’s not a Tommy Hilfiger store with Brooks Brothers products,” he said.
As with other units — now numbering 80 stores and 80 outlets — an estimated 15 percent of the mix is devoted to women’s wear. In the Rodeo Drive location, a small room near the entrance is stocked with traditional tweeds, cashmere and silks — “matching the men’s product in quality, price point and positioning,” said Del Vecchio, a change the ceo has implemented since taking over the retailer from Marks & Spencer for $225 million in cash a year-and-a-half ago.
There are chocolate leather and cashmere blazers from $550 to $598, cable-knit sweaters for $188 and gray pinstriped pantsuits priced at $195. Shoes, including fake croc and leather, are in the $188 to $198 range, while logo canvas bags run from $48 to $148.
Total yearly sales of the company are now $650 million, up from $600 million the company notched when it was acquired in December 2001. Del Vecchio declined to reveal profits for the now-private Brooks Brothers.
“We wanted to buy the company to fix the company,” he said. “We didn’t have to invent anything, just become Brooks Brothers again, instead of a J. Crew or Banana Republic.”Although the brand has tried four women’s-only stores (with locations in Dallas, Houston, St. Louis and Westport, Conn.), the women’s category is not expected to be greater than 20 percent of the business, he said.
“For that to happen, we would have to really increase the square footage of stores,” said Del Vecchio, an unlikely plan given most locations are already 10,000 square feet.
There are no ambitious retail expansions planned, either. Aside from a location that is scheduled to bow in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., next year, seven stores currently in California will suffice, said Del Vecchio. Locally, there are two stores, including a location at South Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles and one in Century City, a few miles west of Beverly Hills. Other Southern California sites include San Diego and Palm Desert. Northern California stores include San Francisco and Palo Alto.
“I don’t think Brooks Brothers is going to become a 300 to 400 unit chain,” he said.
Del Vecchio projects first-year sales at the Beverly Hills flagship to reach $14 million, significantly less than the $70 million two New York flagships collectively take in.
He conceded the Beverly Hills door “just missed” its first-week sales plan but blames the subpar performance on construction on Rodeo Drive. Foot traffic has significantly subsided in the last month since sidewalks have been ripped up, trees uprooted and the center median removed — all part of a $20 million City of Beverly Hills beautification project to be completed by Nov. 17.
One local analyst, who asked for anonymity, said the company’s turnaround largely rests on a return to formal dressing and declining casualization. In Los Angeles, where jeans-to-work is not just a Friday occasion but an everyday ritual, the wild card is whether there is a dressy enough career market here to maintain sales, not to mention high Rodeo Drive rents. Then again, a Rodeo Drive address might have enough public relations value in the company’s eyes to offset losses, the analyst added.
Aside from predicting a “pendulum swing” back to dressier fashion tastes, Del Vecchio maintains there is longevity to Brooks Brothers, above and beyond economic fluctuations or trends.On Sept. 9, the firm kicked off its 185th anniversary celebration in New York with a party to aid Entertainment Industry Foundation’s National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance.
The Beverly Hills store will host a similar celebration on Oct. 16.
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