By  on March 19, 2007

Trading up is getting contagious and Brooks Brothers is the latest to catch the bug.

Nordstrom and Blooming­dale's continue to add designer offerings, Lord & Taylor has dumped moderate offerings in favor of better and bridge and J. Crew keeps pushing the envelope with higher prices while maintaining its openers. And, if they're not doing it by price, retailers are doing it in image, from H&M to Wal-Mart and Target.

Brooks Brothers has been raising its standards over the last few years. The next step in the process will come on Tuesday when the retailer unveils its first designer collection, created by Thom Browne and called Black Fleece.

Black Fleece will consist of about 50 looks; half men's, half women's. Initially, the collection will be sold in about 30 Brooks Brothers stores in the U.S. starting in September, and several overseas. Trunk shows will be staged in many more locations and will have special items.

Brooks Brothers expects Black Fleece to crack $10 million in sales its first season, though the projection could change, considering decisions on pricing and how the collection is presented in the stores have yet to be made. The label won't bear Thom Browne's name, though in-store signage or hangtags might, to explain the collection was designed by him. The Black Fleece moniker for the collection was adapted from the Golden Fleece, which is the Brooks Brothers logo, and a label on men's dress suits and ties, and women's blouses in the store.

This is the first time Brooks Brothers has brought in what executives call a "guest designer" to create an exclusive collection, and they say, if it's a winner, other guest designers could be included in what Brooks Brothers considers "a design laboratory platform."

It's also the first time that Browne, an influential men's wear designer who won the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award last year, has attempted a full women's collection, though he's designed for a few private customers at his shop in the Meatpacking District. His men's line sells at a small group of high-end specialty stores, including Bergdorf Goodman.

"This is an added dimension to our business," said Claudio Del Vecchio, chairman and chief executive officer of Brooks Brothers. "It's priced in line with what people are used to spending on designers," with sweaters at $800 and up, and women's and men's suits from $3,000 to $4,000. There also will be eveningwear pieces retailing for more than $5,000.

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