Disaffected Prep

Monday, August 24, 2009


Field Trip: Brooks "Boutique"

Last week I took an afternoon constitutional (to borrow a phrase from Fred, DP’s Washington D.C. correspondent and counsel) to check out the new Brooks Brothers “boutique” store on Sixth Avenue. Ever since the announcement of the store I was excited – a quick trip to Brooks was only a few blocks away during the workday! Should I need to satisfy a burning desire to pick up a pair of Peal & Co Cap Toes, well, I was quite prepared for the emergency situation.

Then I heard the news that this would be a Brooks “boutique” – and naturally my heart went a-flutter. Would they offer vintage Brooks looks? Would they have a selection of the Thom Browne Black Fleece collection? Were they taking a page from J. Crew’s successful “liquor store” in Tribeca, offering a specially curated collection only available at that location?

Needless to say my expectations were running at fever-pitch. I don’t get this worked up unless the Crate and Barrel AND Pottery Barn catalogs arrive on the same day.

So I headed south down Sixth, and noticed the nice store front. “Yes, yes, go on,” my mind thought, “this looks promising!” I opened the doors, and…

…found a “boutique” with all the charm of an airport duty-free shop.

It was like any old Brooks Brothers shop, only smaller. Same shirts, just fewer. Same ties, just fewer. Same clerks, just standing around (it wasn’t very busy.)

Now I suppose in the end this was a business decision – keep the Brooks flagship on Madison, kill the store on Fifth Avenue, save money on rent, and open up a “boutique” nearby one-sixth of the size of the old store on Fifth. OK I guess – but the Sixth Ave boutique and Madison locations still aren’t that far away. I can understand the rationale of having multiple locations – but keeping them so close must surely cannibalize sales (and I’m sure it was even worse back when they had the Fifth Ave location).

That aside, I’m more disappointed in the wasted opportunity here. J. Crew has done some really creative work in extending and revitalizing their brand as evidenced in their smaller boutique stores in New York. What was once a “mall brand” along the same lines of an American Eagle in my head has turned into a hip destination fully aware of classic men’s style (Baracuta & Barbour jackets, Red Wing boots, etc).

Brooks could have done the same thing – perhaps using a better thought-out “boutique” as a means to answer the critics who note the store has gone hill ever since its ill-fated acquisition by Marks & Spencer.

Bottom line: disappointing. At least there’s still J. Press…

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