Brooks Brothers has some serious history. The brand was founded in Manhattan in 1818, outfitted pioneers during the 1849 California Gold Rush, and crafted the legendary coat Abraham Lincoln wore during both his second inauguration and the night of his assassination. It also pioneered the button-down collar, the ready-to-wear suit, and the argyle sock, and brought both seersucker and madras to US shores for the first time.
But by the mid-Aughts, traditional fits—and more than a few grandfathers in Brooks blazers—had alienated younger customers. They introduced new cuts like the slimmer, sharper Regent fit, but needed a bigger way to bring these elusive gents back into the fold. Enter Anna Wintour, who suggested they team with 2006 CFDA menswear award winner Thom Browne. Brooks listened, and in the fall of 2007, Black Fleece was born. (The name, for those of you who are wondering, is a play on Brooks’ famous Golden Fleece logo.)
The line draws on Brooks Brothers’ vast heritage, but keeps things decidedly modern by incorporating Browne’s distinctive style and exacting attention to detail. Call it a balancing act. The core of Black Fleece—the fabrics, the pieces chosen—is Brooks Brothers through and through. The color palette swings between the classic and the slightly out there, with influences from both side of the equation. But the fit is all Browne. It’s slim, shrunken, and cropped to near-dangerous levels. When Fleece launched, some men simply couldn’t fit into the wares. Now, things have eased up enough to accommodate the diminutive and the average guy alike.
And though you’ll see pieces—ultra-short seersucker swim trunks, a blazing pink sport coat—that require more than a little panache to pull off, the line truly excels at sharply tailored suiting, shirts, and trousers, and smart, understated accessories. Though Browne is supposedly only the first in a series of guest designers, he’s been holding strong at Black Fleece for nearly four years now. Every man that respects a good suit should be crossing his fingers in hopes of a few more.