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On April 7, 1818, at the age of 45, Henry Sands Brooks opened H. & D.H. Brooks & Co. on the Northeast corner of Catherine and Cherry Streets in New York City, where the South Street Seaport now stands. He proclaimed that his guiding principle was, "To make and deal only in merchandise of the finest quality, to sell it at a fair profit and to deal with people who seek and appreciate such merchandise." Interestingly, the company's very first transaction was a loan to one of Brooks's friends.
In 1850, Brooks's grandsons Daniel, John, and Elisha inherited the family business, and renamed the company "Brooks Brothers". In its early history, Brooks Brothers was most widely known for introducing America to the ready-to-wear suit.
The last member of the Brooks family to head the company was Winthrop Holly Brooks, who ran the company from 1935 until its sale in 1946, when the company was acquired by Julius Garfinckel and Company. After the acquisition, Brooks Brothers's director was John C. Wood, who was known for having supposedly made Brooks Brothers an even more traditional men's clothier. By 1969, the ten Brooks Brothers stores in operation were located in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.
Though today many people consider Brooks Brothers a very traditional clothier, it is also known for having introduced many clothing novelties to the market. In 1830, the store was the first to sell seersucker suits in the U.S. In 1896, John E. Brooks, Henry Sands Brooks's grandson, invented the button-down dress shirt after seeing the non-flapping collars on English polo players. Between 1865 and 1998, Brooks Brothers did not make an off-the-rack black suit, because Abraham Lincoln wore a bespoke black Brooks frock coat when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth (and as a result, the traditional American rule is that black suits are only proper for servants and the dead).
Ralph Lauren, when his name was still Ralph Lifschitz, started out as a salesman at Brooks's Madison Avenue store. He was granted the right to use the Polo trademark from Brooks Brothers, which retained its rights to the iconic "original polo button-down collar" shirt still produced today.
Brooks Brothers was acquired by the British firm Marks and Spencer plc in 1988. In 2001, Marks & Spencer sold Brooks Brothers to Retail Brand Alliance ("RBA"), a company privately owned by Italian billionaire Claudio del Vecchio (son of Luxottica founder Leonardo del Vecchio). Besides Brooks Brothers, RBA consists of three established brands: Casual Corner Group (recently sold), (a women's speciality retailer which includes Casual Corner, Petite Sophisticate, August Max and Casual Corner Annex brands), Carolee (a designer of jewelry for department stores and speciality stores), and Adrienne Vittadini (a designer of women's clothing and accessories).
Currently, there are 170 Brooks Brothers stores in the United States and 70 scattered throughout Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Italy. In 1998, Brooks Brothers launched its official website. Today, Brooks Brothers relies much on materials and tailoring from developing countries, whereas before the 1990s virtually all of its clothing had been made in the United States, Western Europe, and Canada.
The symbol of the Golden Fleece is Brooks Brothers's trademark. It consists of a sheep suspended in a ribbon, which was the symbol of Flemish wool merchants in the 15th century and later traditionally had been a symbol of British wool merchants. In ancient Greek mythology, a magical ram's skin, or Golden Fleece, was sought by Jason and the Argonauts.
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