Ralph Lauren may no longer be the standard for comparison for most young brands, but it is for Gabriel Garcia, art director and owner of the Brooklyn Circus, San Francisco. The menswear label and retailer, which specializes in heritage-inspired menswear, was started by Ouigi Theodore in 2006 with a location in Brooklyn, New York, followed by a California location in 2007.
“I think Ralph Lauren is a perfect example of a brand that has stayed classic and stayed true with the sensibility it started with,” Garcia said.
Garcia and the Brooklyn Circus team have adopted this approach to branding for their own business, generating a solid, longer-lasting identity with their clientele. The line focuses on items like logo-emblazoned varsity jackets and anchor-embossed belts—classic collegiate styling- though Garcia says that the heritage trend in menswear already peaked about two years ago and tapered, with menswear moving into a more monochromatic palette with modern silhouettes.
This is not, however, a deterrent for the Brooklyn Circus, which is dedicated to classic styles and iconic brands, and takes inspiration primarily from the 1920s-50s.
Made in America, as a part of heritage style, is an important component for the brand, especially as artisanal manufacturing and craftsmanship have been left behind as other brands focus on speed to market. Brooklyn Circus doesn’t project a Made in America message, but Garcia said the brand strikes a balance between transparency and discovery with their designs. “There’s an element of a journey that’s involved with the brand, and golden nuggets are left throughout.” He added, “We pick and choose where it would add value to our product and our customers’ experience,” noting that sometimes there are limitations within made in America.
The brand’s Americana styling has reached a large audience overseas. Japan, and Tokyo in particular, have been the brand’s biggest market since before they even had wholesale accounts. Garcia explained that Japanese visitors used to visit several times a year to buy their items at retail prices and then resell them abroad. He had been concerned about how their products would be styled, but he was really excited by the way Japanese customers were interpreting the Brooklyn Circus designs.
Japanese customers maintained American inspiration, but still made the looks their own, hybrid style with an oversized instead of tailored item or sneakers with a suit, Garcia described. “They know the rules, they can break the rules,” he added.
Brooklyn Circus is not, after all, one of the stereotypical heritage brands, which tend to feature brand imagery suggesting white, American families. Garcia is of Cuban and Mexican descent and Theodore is Haitian-American. “We’re very proud of being black and brown boys whether through our imagery, our mood board or our lookbooks,” said Garcia. He added, “We own that, we inject that whether subconsciously or consciously.”
The store also breaks the mold by inviting women to partake in their menswear offerings. The store in San Francisco is referred to as a men’s and women’s boutique. Though they sometimes stock specific women’s items, their line is all wearable for young women because of its tailored, casual cut. “It’s more about style than it is anything else. Whatever color, body shape, whatever their heritage is, we welcome them to participate in the BK circus style,” said Garcia.
It’s crucial for a brand that has so many facets and stories to preserve physical retailing. Garcia said, “It’s an important time for physical retail to really take its stand and really own the idea that physical retail can never be replaced.”
Since menswear labels have been rolling out free shipping and subscription-based deliveries, it’s made it more and more appealing for people to shop online. Yet, Brooklyn Circus has really thrived on interactions with customers. “It was those conversations that were really enriching for us,” Garcia said.
Stores will have to become a little more creative in order to keep their brick-and-mortar going, Garcia stated. They will have to activate all the senses and offer them more than just coming in to buy a T-shirt. “The consumer is expecting more now,” he said.