All organizations at one point or another will encounter a unique chance to leverage their heritage. Whatever form that takes—a strategic partnership, a political or social reason, or an internal opportunity—companies should be prepared for it. But they don’t often have the resources to capitalize on the opportunity. And when that happens, a better-equipped competitor can reap the benefits.
Brooks Brothers has positioned itself to capitalize on these opportunities. The iconic American men’s clothier consistently weaves its heritage into its strategic partnerships and product lines. Brooks Brothers’ ability to draw from the past to support its current endeavors rests in its robust archive of clothing and fabric samples, images, documents, and other materials. For a company rooted in tradition and classic style, heritage helps fortify its brand positioning and maximize heritage-based opportunities when they arise.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the new Baz Luhrmann film “The Great Gatsby.” Brooks has direct ties to author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wore a Brooks Brothers polo collar shirt nearly every day. As a Time feature recently recalled, “Fitzgerald made an outfit of their shirts, and was seldom seen without one; it’s strange to think that despite the writer’s fussy and ironically pre-jazz-age look, you can walk into the same [Brooks Brothers] store almost a century later and buy more or less the exact shirt he wore in most of his photographs.”
Because of this connection, Brooks Brothers was a natural fit as a partner in the new film. Brooks played a central role in costume design, using photographs from its archives to inspire most of the 500-piece men’s wardrobe. It also manufactured all of the garments. (Watch the behind-the-scenes video describing the collaboration.)
Beyond its hands-on role with costume design and manufacturing, Brooks Brothers extensively promoted its relationship with the film and touted its use of the archive in developing the film’s wardrobe. Ultimately, it adapted the costumes for a special collection sold online and at Brooks Brothers stores.
This project is not the first time Brooks Brothers has used heritage management to tie the brand to significant events. In the days surrounding the 2013 presidential inauguration, store windows at its Dupont Circle location in Washington, D.C., touted the connection between the retailer and its relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt (he wore a Brooks Brothers cape to the Yalta conference, which was recreated and placed in the window display). A replica of a Brooks Brothers suit that Abraham Lincoln wore was also on display.
Brooks Brothers has used its history to support numerous other initiatives since its archive was established in 1982. What sets the retailer apart is that it keeps working to identify influential moments in its history, and uses them to continue to authenticate and differentiate the brand today.