Ten Minutes With Lou Amendola
A top exec at Brooks Brothers talks about the iconic brand
Lou Amendola gets to have it all. As chief merchandising officer for Brooks Brothers, he is involved in every aspect of creating the clothes they sell. From that first sketch to the actual product, he is on the scene. He began at Macy’s and worked at Donna Karan before moving on to the pillar of classic taste, Brooks Brothers. But thanks to him it’s not your grandfather’s store anymore.
Were you a clotheshorse as a kid? I loved clothes and always thought I would be a fashion designer and study at Parsons School of Design. Instead I went to the University of New Haven majoring in retail and marketing.
Why retailing over fashion design? I took a part-time job at Macy’s while I was attending college and that gave me exposure to the world of retailing. When I was offered a space in their retail training program, I took it and wound up staying at Macy’s for 17 years.
What’s different about being at Brooks Brothers? We are what is called a vertical retailer—we don’t carry other brands. We design the clothes, manufacture the product, and sell to the consumer. While we don’t follow every trend, We have a team of designers working and we are giving them direction based on customers’ needs and what is happening in fashion.
How did one of the most conservative stores wind up carrying a line by the avant-garde Thom Browne? Funnily enough Thom Browne grew up wearing Brooks Brothers clothes. Our customer has become younger and while Thom’s signature collection might be a bit too much for us, he has translated his ideas into a line called Black Fleece, which puts a new twist on the basics and takes fashion a little less serious.
Has the Brooks Brothers’ customer changed? The store began as a carriage trade business in 1818 and we have always been pretty conservative and reliable. We have customers who come back time and again for our no-iron shirts and our basic chinos. But given that men no longer need to dress for the office, we’re making our suits less constructed and narrower in silhouette. So we do have a younger customer base evolving. We don’t necessarily sell as many ties. The Internet business is growing and that definitely has a younger audience.
Has that changed how you approach your collections? Certainly, but we will always be the place where a new graduate comes for his first business suit and where a fledgling lawyer gets his first briefcase.
How do you juggle your city life and your country life? One of the reasons I came to Warren was because I didn’t want the hassle of the Hamptons or to run into people I saw every day in New York. I love being able to garden, go antiquing, or running to the supermarket without having to worry about what I’m wearing. There are great places to eat and I get to enjoy the amazing seasons that New England has to offer.