American brands need nostalgia to save themselves
Maybe this is part one to a deeper conversation around trends, style movements, and our rudderless era of menswear at large.
Lug sole penny loafers
TL;DR — are American brands back, or are that hanging onto the nostalgia of something that doesn’t exist anymore?
Dipping into the past
J.Crew and Brooks Brothers declared bankruptcy in 2020.
The next year, GAP and Banana Republic announced they were closing 350+ stores.
It’s… been a long time coming. The prep sportswear era that put these brands on another playing field has come and gone. After that, the Americana / raw denim moment ensued, followed by the utter commercialization of streetwear in the 2010s (thanks, Ye, Travis, Virgil).
Beyond that, over the last decade, much has changed. In came Instagram, TikTok, online shopping, the western application of Zara and HM, and the rise of streetwear as a default way to dress.
American brands lost their way in a sea of noise and change.
Still, I find it curious.
That the notable American brands we (millennials) were all once married to are now leveraging, well, the good old days to build back consumer interest.
Brooks Brothers just announced a return of “The Vintage Shop” where they list OG Brooks pieces from their website for sale.
The intro to their vintage shop announcement had me smiling…
“There’s something special about a garment that was crafted to last; It carries nostalgia for its original heyday and excitement for rediscovery. For us, it’s a reminder of consummate craftsmanship.”
There’s something about the past. Hey, remember us? Look, we know you used to love us, and we’re really in a pinch here. We need you to care about us and buy our stuff now though. Plz.
Banana Republic did something similar last year. Under the leadership of Ana Andjelic, the then Chief Brand Officer, Banana came out of the woods and released a vintage collection of BR pieces of their own, and it felt really cool. We all loved it. Then… things sort of tapered off.
Haven’t heard from Banana since.
Just last month, J.Crew opened a Men’s Shop at 316 Bowery Street in NYC. It’s eerily akin to their late Liquor Store, a J.Crew relic from the golden days when Mickey Drexler was at the helm of the business.
The space is clearly incredible, well-thought through, and is a nice investment in the company’s rebuild under the reigns of Brendon Babenzian.
Let me be clear about something: None of this is bad, per se. At least for now.
But what’s the alternative? Is there one?
Is it all that any classic American brand can do to keep their long-forgotten consumer tapped into a world that’s washed and changed? A dip into the past as a way of trying to maintain relevenace in a world that’s moved on from them?
Let there be nostalgia. Even if we don’t want it.
Or do we?
What do you think?
These brands seem to have defined what "Americana" was at a certain point in time, yet didn't adapt evolve with the times. Brands like ALD, Rowing Blazers, Todd Snyder, and Noah filled that gap.
Seems like they are still holding onto a certain point in time without defining where we are going. Reactive vs. visionary, holding onto pseudo versions of all the above mentioned brands.
Combine that with more fashion niches where there are less mono stories like peak J.Crew era.
Combine that with a lot of these brands pursuing fast fashion / drop in quality; there's going to have to be more education around why we should care / why we should trust.
I know what you mean. I keep walking into J.Crew, Banana, and The Gap hoping to feel the same buzz that I did when their clothes felt essential -- when they were the core building blocks of my wardrobe as my style sense was really developing. I still have pieces from the Banana 'Mad Men' collection that I really love. But it's been a long time since I've felt that same buzz walking into any of those stores, where I went in, looked around, and felt like I couldn't leave without bringing something home with me.
And if I'm brutally honest about it, it's because there's nothing there that feels essential -- that feels like it'll be a building block in my wardrobe. And that's because of the numbing homogeneity of the offerings. I don't need another pair of khakis. I don't need another gingham shirt that looks like the last gingham shirt. And I think the pandemic played a big role in that. I realized that I could get along with far less. And if I was going to buy something, it was because it filled an absolute need.
I'm intrigued by the redesign at J.Crew, and I look forward to checking out the offerings there. I loved the relaunch of Banana, but it was all preposterously expensive, and sold out in seconds. So I unfortunately missed out on the vintage t-shirt (which, admittedly, would have been a lot of fun).
The nostalgia is helpful, but it may be all they're running on now.