New Brooks Bros. store to dress up downtown L.A.


Downtown Los Angeles isn’t the most hospitable place for dandies. The knot of business towers and lofts, saturated with mass-market or Santee Alley-style emporiums, is a wasteland for upscale retail.

“It’s criminal,” sniffed Matthew Allnatt of the absence of a chic men’s store in the area. He would know. Allnatt is the impeccably dressed chief operating officer at the Jonathan Club, an elite high-society hub that has been downtown for 118 years.

Some of Los Angeles’ most influential residents are members. And many of them refuse to shop in the city core until it develops some 5th Avenue flavor.


Allnatt’s strategy: Bring in Brooks Bros., the nearly two-century-old retailer known for outfitting modern maharajahs — President Obama, for example, and the male cast of “The Great Gatsby” — in $2,000 suits.

The Manhattan company, an elder statesman of the menswear industry, will open an outpost at the Jonathan Club’s Figueroa Street property April 29. Allnatt sees the fancy new tenant less as a money-making proposition than as a step toward rehabilitating downtown’s reputation.

“There’s a growing need for indicators of opportunities for high-end retailers, highlighting that this is not a barren place,” Allnatt said. “We’re throwing up a small beacon among what hopefully will become many more small beacons.”

Once the epicenter of retail in Los Angeles, downtown began losing its luster decades ago. But in recent years, more mass-market retailers have moved downtown amid a bloom of commercial and apartment construction in the area.

City Target launched in the Figat7th complex in October. A revamp of Macy’s Plaza is in the planning stages. A Ross discount emporium opened in a former Woolworth department store in March.

Now developers see the beginning of a luxury build-out for downtown, a chance to turn the area into a glittering lifestyle nucleus for the Southland.

Pricey grocery chain Whole Foods says it’s “actively looking” to grow into the neighborhood. Hip bars and galleries sit on once crime-ridden corners. A culinary renaissance has brought haute restaurants such as Drago Centro within walking distance of the Brooks Bros. site.

Consumers, especially downtown workers with steady paychecks, are more amenable to big spending and less inclined to save than they were during the recession. Shoppers are better disposed toward high-end companies and brands, according to a recent Harris Poll.

A key new target for upper-crust retailers: men, including many of downtown’s bankers, lawyers and young professionals.

Men are increasingly influenced by natty dressers such as star quarterback Tom Brady and “Mad Men” television character Don Draper, said Vincent Castellanos, fashion director of Sy Devore, a Studio City menswear store that once served the Rat Pack.

“We went from the disheveled look of jeans and T-shirts to suits now being fashionable,” Castellanos said.

So Brooks Bros.’ foray into downtown could be the first of many, as retailers attempt to tap the mounting sartorial interest there.

“It’s a brilliant move,” said Sam Hamadeh, chief executive of corporate research firm PrivCo.

But Robert Cohen, a real estate broker with RKF, doubts that downtown will become an upscale shopping destination any time soon.

“There’s no key street downtown,” he said. “You need continuity, a place where these retailers can cluster.”

Brooks Bros. previously spent some two decades downtown in a space kitty-corner from the Jonathan Club. The retailer left in 2010 when its lease expired and another planned downtown location fell through, leaving only its Rodeo Drive flagship and Westfield Century City location in the Los Angeles area.

Kathy Self, the company’s chief real estate officer, said she’s excited to bring the brand back to an area experiencing “tremendous growth.” Having some upscale company, though, wouldn’t hurt.

“Nothing would delight me more than having Louis Vuitton or Burberry or any other luxury retailers as our neighbors,” she said.

Its Jonathan Club store will be smaller than most, filling 1,350 square feet with men’s apparel such as suits and tuxedos, accessories and luggage. Also on shelves: some women’s products — including the book “How to be a Lady.”

Floors will be hardwood. Porcelain tiles and marble will adorn the entryway. Fixtures will be made of light cherry wood.

Brooks Bros. and the Jonathan Club could use the jolt from a new venture. Despite their storied histories, both organizations are works in progress, adapting to changing demographics and tastes.

The Jonathan Club still prohibits denim and T-shirts in its halls. The lobby features lavish dark wood detailing reminiscent of Hearst Castle.

These days, though, there are 650 female members at the club, which until the 1980s had discouraged women from even dining inside. A rooftop garden provides club chefs with organic greens. Allnatt says the group has “made a conscious effort” to draw younger members.

“We’re constantly trying to reinvent ourselves,” he said. “It’s not your grandfather’s club. It’s more open and welcoming.”

Brooks Bros. is also trying to modernize, even as it fights to reclaim the opulent roots and exacting customers it lost after being sold in 1988.

British retailer Marks & Spencer, which picked up Brooks Bros. for $750 million, tried to give the brand a populist makeover. It began appearing in malls that “weren’t high-end, where JCPenney was next door,” PrivCo’s Hamadeh said. Apparel prices slid. Polyester began creeping into the cotton shirts. Stores were shutting.

“They tried to go mass market and it really tarnished the brand,” Hamadeh said. “The strategy was a failure.”

In 2001, Brooks Bros. was sold to Retail Brand Alliance for a meager $250 million.

Since then, it has gone back to the future.

“We’re evolving with our customer, with the lifestyle changes in our country,” Self said.

Hip designer Thom Browne signed on with the company’s ultra-luxe Black Fleece label. The brand has opened stores in wealth capitals such as New York’s financial district.

Younger customers with active weekend lives inspired more casual styles. Brooks Bros. opened a Fleece line of stores for boys and girls, as well as Flatiron stores near the campuses of universities such as Princeton and Duke.

The company’s website has been updated, as has its catalog. Growing online sales now account for an estimated 10% of revenue. As of 2011, PrivCo estimates Brooks Bros.’ sales to be $1.38 billion, an increase from the recession.

“Before, I wouldn’t even consider suggesting their suits to clients,” said clothier Castellanos, who also blogs daily fashion tips. “Now, I’d happily throw them in as an option. They’re starting to cater to a younger crowd and also to the guy who doesn’t want to dress like Grandpa.”