Brooks Brothers at 200 – Part 1: Background

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At a time when the fashion press engages in a group hug with brands over how labels can stay viable in the digital age, it is fitting that we should pause to consider a brand that has been doing just fine, thank you, since James Monroe was president of the United States. Brooks Brothers, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, has had different owners and various designers (with Zac Posen now directing womenswear), but has adhered to a consistent philosophy that can be described in abstract terms as “wearable and confident American style.” Brooks Brothers can also be described, more explicitly, as one of the few places where, no matter what you buy, if the color and fit work, you can forget the term “fashion victim.” To celebrate its anniversary, the brand mounted its first show at Pitti Uomo in January. Sixty-one models (including eight women who made the term American style into a synonym for chic) were presented to the accompaniment of a full symphony orchestra; unusual for almost any show anywhere, every piece could have been worn out the door of the Palazzo Vecchio onto the streets of Florence (or New York, London or Tokyo).

As a branding lawyer, constancy in branding message and in legal protection are always on my mind. Managing that from the flagship at the corner of Madison Avenue and E. 44th Street in Manhattan may have been easy enough back when, if someone said he was going to Brooks Brothers, you just assumed that he meant going to that corner and into that store. Keeping consistency in message and legal protection became a bit more complicated when the brand expanded across the USA (eleven stores by the 1970s) and then, in 1979, to its first international location, in the prosperous Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo. The challenges are global now, with the brand maintaining hundreds of stores in nearly fifty countries, and with a wholesale business that places Brooks Brothers products onto shelves and racks of many third-party retailers.

I sat down recently with Arthur Wayne, the vice president of global public relations at Brooks Brothers, in his office in the tower behind the company flagship, to gain some understanding on how it is done.

The first thing that became clear in speaking to Mr. Wayne is that Brooks Brothers adheres to the strategy (which I fully support in general and for fashion in particular) that a brand is its story made temporal. The Brooks Brothers story is the American experience. There are many examples, but consider just three outlined briefly by Mr. Wayne: when miners landed in New York from around the world and headed (one might say herded) west in 1849 during the gold rush, Brooks Brothers innovated, with the ready-made suit. No need to wait to be measured and return for fittings. Pick one off the table,* let it out or take it in, and off you went to California, well-dressed, with a pickaxe in hand. Then came the Oxford button-down shirt, which has been copied by nearly everyone trying to look American.** And I have gone into detail on these pages about why the stripes of American ties, led by Brooks Brothers, go from right to left instead of left to right, as do the British regimental ties of their inspiration.

In my next post, I will pick up with what brought the company to where it is now—and what it is doing to keep its brand on message.

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* Until comparatively recently in the company’s long history, men’s jackets were neatly folded and presented in stacks on counters.

** American style is about looking effortless; that does not mean it is easy to do. I shared with Mr. Wayne how I once knew the American representative of a renowned British shirtmaker. As he explained it to me, after several failed attempts on Jermyn Street to get that American collar right, he walked over to Madison & 44th, bought two Brooks Brothers button-down shirts off the shelf and sent them back to England with the message to please just copy this.

Credit:  Alan Behr


An American in Paris

Greg Kessler
Rodarte S/S 2018 Paris Haute Couture Week July 2017

Looking back on Paris Fashion Week 2018, it is fun to reflect on the undeniable allure of Paris. Maybe it is the Parisian lights. Maybe it is because it is the City of Love. But there is something that attracts Francophiles from all over the world. A long-time fashion hub, Paris has been winning the hearts of more and more American fashion designers. Traditionally, New York Fashion Week is the reference mark for American design. Yet in just the past year, American designers Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Thom Browne, and Joseph Altuzarra have opted to show their collections in Paris instead.

All of the Americans in Paris cited creativity as the major reason for relocating their spring and fall shows to Paris. Prior to Rodarte’s Paris Haute Couture Week debut last summer, co-founder Laura Mulleavy told The New York Times’s Elizabeth Paton: “I like being part of a new situation.” Co-founder Kate Mulleavy expanded:

“Ultimately a process should fuel creativity…France treats fashion as art; it just isn’t like that in America. Just spending time in [Paris], being part of it, is a reminder that enjoying new experiences fuels your best ideas and designs. Your imagination can totally come alive.”

Nevertheless, new opportunities also bring new legal issues. The initial question regarding work in France often is: Will I need visas or work permits for my American staff in order to show my collection in Paris? The good news: since 2016, if you are working in France for three months or less for the purpose of putting on a trade show, an art exhibition, or a fashion show, you need neither visas nor work permits.

Also, keeping in mind that French law emphasizes employee well-being, France requires its foreign employers to have documentation on file with the French counterpart to the United States Social Security Administration.

France and the United States have a reciprocal agreement whereby time spent working in France is considered eligible for social security and future benefits, like retirement, disability, and survivor’s insurance, in the United States. US employers must file a social security form for each employee working abroad. However, those benefits (as with so many others) do not apply to independent contractors. Therefore, those make-up artists, hairstylists, and public relations personnel employed by others but who are “hired out” by designers for shows must have their own full-time employers file social security forms for them.

Before starting work in France, an American employer transferring employees temporarily must file a declaration of workplace safety with the office for the International Posting of Workers in France, also known as Prestation de Services Internationales en France (SIPSI). Upon such filing, SIPSI will alert the French authorities responsible for inspecting the posting locations of foreign employees to examine the proposed fashion show site. Unlike the multiple social security forms required by an employer in the US, only one SIPSI filing is needed per employer, per location.

Much as in the critically acclaimed movie, as an American in Paris you will want to spend your free time eating baguettes, sightseeing, taking pictures, creating memories, and perhaps falling in love. It therefore would be wise to consult counsel and to address the business and legal issues in advance so that, once the fashion show has been completed, you will be able devote your time to drinking wine, eating cheese, and indulging in the many facets of French culture.

Greg Kessler
Rodarte S/S 2018 Paris Haute Couture Week July 2017

Credit: Candace R. Arrington

Photo Credit: Greg Kessler


NYC Fashion Week and the Created Today, Copied Tomorrow Syndrome

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Pose! Click! Flash! Those are just a few of the sights and sounds of Fashion Week, an exciting time here in New York City. I had the privilege of attending one of the week’s first events–PH5’s Presentation at Bortolami Gallery in Chelsea.

I was awed by the entire experience–stark white walls adorned with giant white balloons set against a row of willowy models in unique and colorful knits and clear plastic above-the-knee boots. As the models stood in mannequin-like pose on small white pedestals, cameras went off at lightning speed and reporters surrounded designer Mijia Zhang and owner Wei Lin. Others, many of them dressed to perfection, crowded into the gallery to see the looks–and look over each other. The energy was high and fast.

After some gawking and conversation over maple water, the onlookers drifted out and the room cleared just as quickly as it had filled up. It was then that I was struck how much the show reminded me of Christmas morning when the kids tear through numerous well-wrapped gifts in literally minutes. After all of the time-consuming preparations in browsing, choosing and wrapping gifts and placing them under the trimmed tree, the excitement is over in a matter of minutes. The same is true of a fashion show.

I thought of all of the hard work Wei, Mijia and their team put into making the excitement of the show. From choosing a brand, to designing the clothes, selecting eye-catching fabrics, obtaining quality manufacturers and selecting the “right” models, space and décor, the coordination is overwhelming.

As a lawyer, my mind, of course, then jumped to the “dark side.” The months of planning to over-in-minutes analogy made me think of how quickly PH5’s designs could be ripped off. We do not have copyright protection for clothing designs in the United States so copying is not only inevitable but also permitted. I have heard many a designer tell me about the frustration they experience when all of the time, effort and money they expend to create a line of clothes can be out the door in minutes when photos of fresh clothing are sent overseas and copied instantly. A few years ago, bills were introduced in Congress to give limited protection to clothing designs but they never made it anywhere. As a result, the copying continues, at least in the U.S., at the same frantic pace as Fashion Week. Some countries like France guard their famous designers by protecting clothing designs.

Some designers with novel fabrics may be luckier than others. For example, PH5 has what the Daily Beast calls “technically sophisticated knits” which can be protected by copyright. Original fabric designs are protected by copyright in the U.S., which does help alleviate the created today, knocked off tomorrow syndrome. Whether a design qualifies for protection is a question to raise with counsel—well enough before the fashion show starts—in order to help gain a measure of legal (and therefore business) advantage over makers of knock-offs.

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Credit: Monica P. McCabe