Zac Posen has a lot going on.
The designer’s long-anticipated debut collection for Brooks Brothers, his first since being named creative director of women’s wear in 2014, had a limited online launch Wednesday, with the full e-commerce and in-store launch set for this week.
At the same time, he is preparing for the Feb. 14 launch of his own brand’s e-commerce site, which will carry select pieces from the Zac Posen collection as well as lower-priced, site-specific offerings and Zac Zac Posen. Shortly after the designer’s fall 2016 fashion show, customers will be able to order select pieces from that line.
In a conversation with WWD, Posen’s primary focus was on Brooks Brothers. The retailer gave the collection’s online launch an air of exclusivity, bestowing “insider status” on customers who signed up for a link that offered early access to the site, which goes fully live on Monday. After three selling days, a green microfiber houndstooth trench, a jacquard cashmere cardigan and a range of items in an original tulip print, emerged as early bestsellers. The 160-piece line hits all 120 U.S. stores and 160 overseas units Tuesday.
Posen spoke to the responsibility of taking on a brand steeped in tradition yet with an obvious need for currency. “It was essential for me to respect and build out the code of Brooks Brothers,” he said, describing the women’s collection as “an evolution…Brooks is about tried-and-true and quality. You can place product out there that doesn’t have to be overdesigned. It’s real classics and great sportswear, and it’s not fast fashion.”
It is reflective of Posen’s feminine aesthetic, here translated into a sportswear sensibility, a point essential to Brooks Brothers chairman and chief executive officer Claudio Del Vecchio. “Our roots in men’s ended up affecting some of what we’ve done in women’s,” said Del Vecchio. “We always were a little manly. I asked Zac to feminize the collection, not for a different kind of customer, but the one already walking into the store. He accomplished what we wanted. Of course, it’s more fashionable [than past collections].”
Women’s accounts for about 20 percent of Brooks Brothers’ total business. Asked if he hopes to grow that number, Del Vecchio hedged, saying, “We’ll leave it to the customer to decide how big it can be. It’s tricky, because it impacts men’s. We’ve been doing women’s for 100 years. We’ve shown a lot of patience so far.”
Prior to Posen’s hiring, the women’s collection was designed in-house, with the exception of the Thom Browne-designed Black Fleece, the final season of which was fall 2015.
Posen has put his imprimatur on the new collection, but not his name. “That was my choice,” he said. “Brooks Brothers stands on its own. A designer putting his name on a brand makes it a novelty.”
Crisp shirtdresses, smart suits and men’s wear-inspired jackets are found in the line. Sheaths and shorts come in men’s-wear plaid, while an abstract tulip print designed by Pierre Marie appears on everything from dresses to wide-leg pants. Shots of color from saturated reds, cerulean blue and canary yellow add punch.
“We made a nice investment with Zac,” Del Vecchio said. “We restructured the way we work with women’s. We were more interested in bringing a different spin to our women’s collection.”
The collection is still in its nascent stages. Posen noted great opportunity in the accessories arena, and that creative partnerships are on the table. “Scarves are an incredible way to collaborate with different artists,” he said. “This is an opportunity to represent American sportswear globally and collaborate with the best of the best.”
While Del Vecchio was drawn to Posen’s feminine aesthetic, the designer is eager to offer women all of the options available to men — made-to-measure suits included. He has his own suits custom-made at Brooks Brothers, and has created suits for Heidi Klum and Nina Garcia, his co-judges on “Project Runway,” to wear on the show.
He’s also overseeing marketing, branding and advertising for women’s, and he’s managing to fit in the requisite personal appearances. After a visit to Japan, where Brooks Brothers has multiple outposts, additional trips are under consideration. “It’s amazing,” Posen said, “to work with a brand that’s in China, Japan, Spain, Turkey.”