Creative In Conversation: Michael Bastian of Brooks Brothers

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A luxury brand, Brooks Brothers was established in Manhattan in 1818 and has become synonymous with American style for the whole family. And it’s an aesthetic that has worked, because impressively, the brand holds the distinction of being America’s oldest continuously operating apparel brand. This is not an easy task.

Offering collections for men, women and children, expect a contemporary take on classics – think everything from dress shirts and cable knits to corduroy pants, pleated skirts and twill two-pieces. For those special occasions, they will also provide you with a quintessential tuxedo.

The man at the head of creation? Well, it’s Michael Bastian, an award-winning American designer who held senior positions at Bergdorf Goodman as director of menswear and collaborated with top brands such as GANT and UNIQLO. He also launched his high-end menswear brand in 2005, which saw him named CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year in 2011, and in 2016 he founded a more accessible contemporary line.

Michael Bastian, Creative Director of Brooks Brothers, talks to us about his journey, what luxury means to him and the cornerstones of this heritage label.

Felicity Carter: What is your earliest fashion memory?

Michael Bastian: My first fashion memory goes back to kindergarten. I vividly remember a kid in my class wearing some kind of cowboy outfit with a bandana attached, and I became obsessed – pleading with my mom nonstop until she gave in and got me the same outfit. It was really my first step into this world.

FC: How would you sum up the aesthetic of Brooks Brothers?

MB: Brooks Brothers is and always should be the definitive source of classic American style. It’s a brand you can rely on for all the basics like the perfect polo shirts, navy blazers, shetland sweaters, chinos, OCBD’s and so on. The Brooks Brothers aesthetic is pretty much timeless, and although we don’t consider ourselves a trendy brand, we’ve been responsible for many trends and innovations over the past two hundred years. No other brand has the depth of history of Brooks Brothers, and that should always be respected.

FC: What is luxury for you?

MB: Personally, I think luxury is more about experiences and feelings than specific things. This can include quality and rarity for sure, but it can also be intangibles such as time – not wasting time or finding more time always seems pretty luxurious to me. What I know for sure is that luxury is not the same as expensive. I remember someone once said, “The greatest luxury in the world is to be able to read while lying on the grass on a summer day. It looks very hard to beat.

FC: Who is your client?

MB: I think our client is someone who appreciates classic American style and true quality. The brand definitely has its super fans who practically only wear Brooks Brothers and consider us much more than a store – we are truly part of their life, of their history. But we also attract customers looking for high-quality staples in their wardrobe, such as cashmere turtlenecks, flannel suits and more casual items. We will always be a destination for bespoke and formal wear, but sportswear is becoming increasingly important to the brand. It’s just a natural reaction to the way people dress for work these days. Basically, there’s room in everyone’s closet for something from Brooks Brothers.

FC: What are the cornerstones of Brooks Brothers?

MB: As the nation’s oldest apparel retailer, our customers expect to always find certain items in our stores and on the web, such as OCBD, tennis sweaters, classic pea coat, boxer shorts, sets twins, the list goes on. always. It’s a big part of my job to make sure those elements are still present and as perfect or true to the original as possible. But on top of that, it’s still just as important to make sure the assortment is always interesting and relevant. There is also a lot of talk about the importance of optimism in collecting.

FC: What’s on your current mood board?

MB: We’re about to launch our Spring/Summer 22, and my moodboard is filled with images of two very different American islands: Nantucket, where I spend a lot of time, and Palm Beach. These two places have some similarities but also very different energies. I love that Nantucket is more laid back, washed out, and a bit undone, and Palm Beach is more colorful, put together, and laid out. Two American islands, two very cool but distinct atmospheres that are very Brooks Brothers.

FC: Tell us about the process?

MB: Inspiration can come from so many places, like photos, movies, the street – things I remember and how I imagined. Everything is very smooth. We also dig deep into the archives here at Brooks Brothers – I’m always surprised at how trendy the brand has always been, but in its own way.

FC: Currently, what are your favorite pieces and how do you wear them?

MB: My favorite piece at the moment is the navy shetland sweater with embroidered horses all over and corduroy elbow patches from Fall 21, my first collection for Brooks Brothers. It was inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s early photographic studies of animals in motion – particularly his documentation of horse locomotion. I’m for sure my harshest reviewer, but I can’t find a single thing I would change about this sweater, which doesn’t always happen.

FC: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received when it comes to managing the industry?

MB: That’s an excellent question. The best advice I’ve ever received is that there’s nothing wrong with customizing what we do as designers. If you personally want an item or feel there is something missing in your wardrobe, you can be sure other people are looking for it too. There is a myth that we all design for an ideal mystery shopper when in reality if we all designed the product we wanted to wear we would be much more successful in our work.

See the full collection at brooksbrothers.com.

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