Lifestyle

Brooks Brothers files for bankruptcy, still seeking buyer

Brooks Brothers, the 202-year-old men’s clothier that has dressed dozens of US presidents and countless Wall Street bankers, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday.

The storied New York-based retailer, which operates 200 stores across the US and more than 500 worldwide, is the latest retail casualty of the coronavirus pandemic that has already forced Neiman Marcus, JCPenney, J.Crew and others into bankruptcy proceedings.

The iconic brand, which popularized business-uniform staples including striped “repp” ties and buttoned-down shirt collars, has struggled in recent years in an increasingly casual workplace. Suits increasingly have been replaced by khakis, jeans and hoodies.

This spring, however, the coronavirus epidemic not only shuttered stores but left customers hunkered down at home, working in sweatpants. Brooks Brothers had already announced plans to close 50 stores before the Chapter 11 filing.

Although most of its clothing is imported, Brooks Brothers is one of the few US chains that still makes some of its merchandise domestically. Last month, the company it may close its three US factories, one of which is in Long Island City, Queens, where it makes its ties. The company makes its suits in a factory in Haverhill, Mass. and its shirts in Garland, NC.

Owned by Italian retail tycoon Claudio Del Vecchio, the company last year hired investment bank PJ Solomon to find a buyer, but this spring the COVID-19 crisis threw a wrench into those plans. The chain has snagged $75 million in financing to support it through the Chapter 11 process, court records show.

“The purpose of this filing is to obtain additional financing and facilitate a sale process in an efficient manner to maximize value for our stakeholders and ensure that our iconic brand is positioned to continue under new ownership,” a company spokesperson told The Post. “Brooks Brothers is here to stay and serve our loyal customers for years to come.”

Founded in 1818 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the company boasts of having outfitted 41 of 45 US presidents. Abraham Lincoln was a loyal customer, and said to be wearing a Brooks Brothers suit on the evening he was assassinated. Teddy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama also were clients.

Licensing firm Authentic Brands Group, owner of Barneys New York, Forever 21 and Sports Illustrated, is among the companies looking at acquiring Brooks Brothers, sources told The Post. But the brand faces significant challenges, industry sources say, including its stuffy image.

“Brooks Brothers is a good name, but it is a yesterday brand,” Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners. “It’s a style statement that’s not as relevant to consumers today as it was a generation ago.”

Apparel brands are suffering as consumers spend less of their disposable income on clothing amid the pandemic. Clothing sales are down 42 percent year to date, according to CGP. Clothing accounts for just 3.8 percent of retail spending today compared to 9 percent in 2000.