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In the five years since its debut, the Black Fleece collection, designed by Thom Browne, has built a significant following within and outside the retailer’s stores. Women’s wear is gaining in importance, and the brand is being expanded to more stores as it continues to expand its reach.
In a presentation of the company’s fall collection last week, Lou Amendola, chief merchandising officer of Brooks Brothers, said, “Black Fleece has an identity of its own. In what was a challenging retail environment last year, it made plan and performed well.” He said when the line launched, the plan was to have women’s wear represent 50 percent of sales, but it was actually closer to 5 percent. “But women’s is starting to gain momentum,” he said, noting that it has grown to 30 percent of sales overall, and in some stores, such as Georgetown, it represents 50 percent of sales.
Amendola also revealed that Brooks Brothers is close to extending its deal with Browne to continue to design the collection. “Both parties want it to continue,” he said. There are currently two freestanding Black Fleece stores in the U.S., one in Japan and one in Hong Kong. The collection is also carried in around 10 Brooks Brothers stores. Amendola said there are no plans to add other freestanding units at this time, but “the major focus is growth within the Brooks Brothers stores.”
For fall, Browne offered up a collection that spoke to the heritage of Brooks Brothers, but interpreted in a modern way. “Every season we sit down to make sure Black Fleece stands on its own but fits into the Brooks Brothers brand,” the designer said, pointing to a graphic black-and-white group of men’s suits and knitwear and an innovative knotted yarn dress for women. In what has become a signature, there was a “strong statement of gray,” he said, adding that the first piece he designed for the collection was a men’s gray suit. This season the color was augmented by gold, red plum, military green and raspberry, as well as navy, white and black. Signature plaids, tartan prints and colorblocking were used throughout, and there was a “strong black-tie group,” he said. The women’s collection offered shirtdresses in solids and tartans, as well as embellished sweaters and lace trim.
In the core Brooks Brothers collection, Amendola said, the younger-skewed line, formerly called the University collection, is now being marketed as Red Fleece. The pieces, which include five-pocket corduroy pants with stretch, shorter dresses, quilted men’s blazers, pants embroidered with a snowflake motif and a subtle camouflage print on a sport coat “are based on iconic Brooks Brothers pieces but are designed to appeal to a younger customer,” he said.
Other new initiatives for fall include a collection of Scottish sport shirts and kilts based on a reproduction of the family tartan of the wife of Brooks Brothers founder Henry Sands Brooks, as well as a new collection of Own Make men’s suits, dress shirts and neckwear manufactured in the company’s U.S. factories.