In 2010, Gant debuted the inaugural collection from what would become a years-long partnership with the American designer Michael Bastian. It was a heady year for menswear—and #menswear, the extremely online movement fueled by a love of heritage, tailoring, and Tumblr—and Bastian’s sporty, irreverent take on prep instantly struck a chord. For half a decade, Bastian brought his signature peppy perspective and penchant for crisply tailored cargos to the lusted-after collaboration, all while designing men’s and women’s clothing for his own eponymous label.
Well, it ain’t 2010 anymore. (Though in a lot of ways, it sure looks like 2010.) The attention of the menswear masses has long since turned to grail-worthy sneakers and graphic-laden sweatshirts (to be real pithy about it) and the perspective of designers like Bastian seems to have gone the way of the double monkstrap: dearly departed, though certainly not forgotten. But Bastian’s no-frills take on rugby shirts and oxford cloth button-downs suddenly feels remarkably prescient. His is an aesthetic language ripe for reinterpretation, one that’s now been parroted, consciously or not, by a younger generation of prep-leaning labels and infused with a little counter-cultural swagger rooted in an appreciation for streetwear’s genre-smashing approach to design.
And as of yesterday, the designer is set to bring his talents to the biggest partnership of his career. On Monday, WWD reported Bastian will take over as the new creative director at Brooks Brothers, the iconic American retailer scooped up on the cheap by Authentic Brands Group after declaring bankruptcy this past summer. On paper, the match sounds too good to be true, the type of wild “what if?” scenario that might’ve been excitedly bandied about in the early 2010s after a few too many beers in the backyard of Saturdays on Crosby Street. If there’s one man who can bring a healthy dose of youthful irreverence to a brand that’s been resting on its (perfectly rolled) laurels for decades, it’s Bastian. But will Brooks Brothers let him?
The answer, it seems, is…maybe? Per WWD, the retailer is making a concerted effort to shore up its sportswear offerings, an area Ken Ohashi, Brooks Brother’s new president, sees as “significantly underpenetrated.” Bastian is tasked with overseeing a substantial overhaul of the brand’s core collection, including the addition of yes, more than a few graphic-laden pieces. Ohashi touts the impressive sell-through rate of one particular cable-knit hoodie (sick, dude!) but gussied up athleisure—argh—isn’t exactly a novel proposition, and one briskly selling sweatshirt does not a comeback make. For a brand struggling to maintain relevancy in 2020, introducing sportswear of any kind tends to be a low-hanging fruit, but by now its far from the ripest one. Bastian understands the importance of solid merchandising (he’s worked in buying and was the fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman before launching his namesake label in the mid aughts). But even the best merchandising can’t hide bad design.
Brooks Brothers should know this by now. Its Black Fleece line, an almost decade-long collaboration with the designer Thom Browne, was a hit in part because it borrowed so heavily from the same aesthetic ideas that make Browne’s eponymous label such a success. A foray into the mesh-lined world of athleisure seems like a misstep, another swerve away from the perspective that made the brand a mainstay in wardrobes of well-dressed dudes around the world, and towards a painfully anodyne take on menswear its old customers won’t understand and everyone else can find, uh, anywhere else.
For now, Bastian seems game to go along. But for what it’s worth: You’re better than this Brooks Brothers. Let the man do his thing. I don’t need another pair of sweatpants. But I sure wouldn’t mind seeing one of #menswear’s foremost design gods offer his spin on the state of menswear today. Now why don’t all of us throw on some snuff suede loafers and a soft-shouldered sport coat and party like it’s 2010 again? Because I’d sooner dust off a pair of dub monks than rock a cable-knit hoodie—and I can’t be the only one.
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