It was three years ago that Claudio Del Vecchio, chief executive officer of Brooks Brothers, made a lofty pledge: He would donate $20 million to build the Brooks Brothers Computational Center at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. And on Wednesday night, during the retailer’s annual Thanks and Giving holiday event for the hospital, Del Vecchio said the company had actually raised “north of that.”
To celebrate, Del Vecchio was joined by Marlo Thomas, whose father founded St. Jude, as well as Matthew Morrison, Eva Amurri Martino, Wynton Marsalis, Don Lemon and a slew of other notables, including some of the young patients that St. Jude has treated.
Del Vecchio said the company’s relationship with the hospital actually started 14 years ago and remains a highlight of the year for Brooks’ employees and customers. “It is thanks to the generosity of our customers and the passion of our associates that through these combined efforts one day we will see an end to pediatric cancer,” he said. For two months every holiday season, the company donates a portion of its purchases to St. Jude.
The festive New York event featured performances by Marsalis as well as cast members of “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” “Mean Girls” and The Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem. Attendees got to visit with Santa, decorate cookies and sip hot chocolate while browsing the store.
During the event, Del Vecchio also addressed rumors that he might consider selling Brooks Brothers. He purchased the business from Marks & Spencer for $225 million in 2001 and methodically set out to upgrade its merchandise mix, revamp its stores, expand internationally and add several product categories. It has estimated sales in excess of $1.1 billion.
This year, which marks the brand’s 200th anniversary, he was highly visible both in the U.S. and Italy when Brooks held its first fashion show at Pitti Uomo in January and hosted a big blowout birthday party at Lincoln Center in April as well as other events around the world.
At this point, Del Vecchio has become the face of the venerable brand, although he is quick to credit his team and Brooks Brothers’ rich history of innovation as the true keys to the business.
On Wednesday night, he shrugged off the rumors that he might be looking for an exit strategy, saying: “People come to me and inquire all the time. But are we trying to sell the company? No.” However, as a businessman, Del Vecchio said it’s his duty to talk to interested parties, just in case they make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Del Vecchio said business in this 200th anniversary year is better than it has been for the past two to three years and holiday sales are strong. “Our global reach is also appealing to people,” he added.
“We’re not trying to dump the company,” he said. “But if somebody wants to pay me what they paid for Versace.…” Michael Kors Holdings purchased the Versace business for $2.1 billion earlier this year.