Bonobos F/W Suit Collection ’14

Mr. Jason Bornstein, the online media manager at Bonobos contacted me last week to see if I’d be willing to spread the word on their newest suit and sportcoat collection for the upcoming Fall and Winter 2014 season, set to debut in the coming week. Typically I am hesitant about these kinds of marketing blitz requests, as I had explained in my last editorial posting. I try my hardest to maintain the blog in a rigid format that operates under my single discerning intuition, as compared to a multi-platform with industry news and campaigns from a third party interest. This isn’t to snub companies or anything like that mind you.

Having this direction simply allows me to bring forward to you topics that I alone find pertinent for your eyes. If I were to post something about a specific company, then that particular subject is from my own de novo discovery, which I think is best in keeping the blog’s moral compass true north so that I may deliver to you the raw information and critique straight from unbiased critical perception. CollegeTrad is an extension of me and no one else. However, I’ve gotten more and more requests from larger companies like Bonobos and up-and-coming fledgling startups alike, who all want to crowdsource our audience for maximum exposure. No harm in that. Business as usual.

But if I were to respond by posting the company’s offering for your consideration, then I at least try to add in my own attached line of analysis, so that you can take away a new skill or tradly understanding, on top of learning about an exciting new product launch and such. This is how I responded to a query request for Vintage Campus USA, where I used the chance to make a callback to TNSIL with a refreshingly appeal to retro-vibe school spirit apparel that Vintage Campus happened to produce. I try to keep an open mind when a professional contact reaches out to me, to see if what is being offered has some distinguishing claim that brings a unique take or alternative to our table. Or at the very least, use it as an excuse to exercise a practicum into our crazy world of Trad&Prep groupthink…

[Left Wing of the Menswear Museum. Hall: Neoprep. Exhibit B(1a) reads: Bonobos, Pan paniscus, circa Personalized Style era of late 2000s to current.]

[You are now reading this in Steve Erwin’s voice. The tourguide begins to speak.]

Before I introduce to you the latest Bonobos F/W offering, I’d like to present commentary on the company itself and it’s place in our huge cabinet of Trad&Prep flavors. Where does Bonobos stand against, say, granddaddy Brooks? How should it be compared as a viable candidate against other popular and direct competitors, like JCrew? But before we dive into this impending dark jungle, I will preface with a full disclaimer now: I am not being compensated (monetary or otherwise) by Bonobos for writing this article. I do no represent the company in any manner. I include candid and constructive conversation in the utmost directive of holding the blog’s integrity against any form of filtering, in benefit to you my reader.

Now that the small print is glossed over, back to our tropical safari. I’ll start the tour by focusing on a cardinal prompt for our given narrative. How do neoprep brands like Bonobos standup in my “CollegeTrad Approved” hierarchy of fashion brands? You’re now naturally asking why this is important to address, with my answer being: There are hundreds of companies that all promise to offer the same things. Quality. Good fitting. Cool design. And if you’ve taken an introductory marketing or economics class, you will remember that a highly competitive industry like the menswear segment is extremely fragmented, where brand loyalty and customer perception can make or break a company’s stature. And for clothing geeks like me, this kind of intangible output that each brand creates for itself goes far in shaping my personal shopping habits. I will respect or disrespect a brand by the smallest of partiality. We have already identified the faces of our metaphorical Mt. Rushmore before, with handpicked outfitters that I have likened to the top of their respective games and are often referenced by me in prominence to our preppy interests. These are the usual suspects, such as Brooks Brothers, J Press, Patagonia, and Alden; with each having high-priced stock that is traded with a currency valued by our worthy trust, as shaped by a summation of praising groupthink. Items from these brands are your staples, and you can live the rest of your life with this handful if need be. But let’s be realists too. We are not going to have a closet full of just Brooks shirts, just JPress pants, just Barbour outerwear. We are also not 63 years old and the CEO of a Fortune 500 firm either, where it would make sense if that were the case to have a magazine full of beautiful – and expensive – Alden dress shoes for all of life’s pleasant pursuits. Us young gentlemen don’t always want to dress in the strictest school of tradly thought all the time, even if we could afford it. That CEO spends his afternoons at the Princeton Club smoking cigars with fellow titans of industry. You, on the other hand, are out at the club in East Village, buying a $15 bottleneck and trying to talk to a tall blond third year NYU med student as the DJ loudly plays his remix. And so, we expand our horizons to see what else is out there, and navigating successfully through all of the bees that vie for our honey is why I argue for a requisite ability to be a Renaissance Man as a new adult in the real world, who can switch his mask from the predetermined TNSIL fortification that Brooks and Press finely represent, to that of a forward moving young professional that can manipulate multiple brands and styles to create an always-evolving outward appearance for himself. You’ve been watching Mad Men, yes? If twilight Sterling Cooper was Press and noon Don Draper was Brooks, then morning dew Pete Campbell is Bonobos.

Bonobos has been a strong proposition from the very beginning of its adolescence of only seven years. That is a huge accomplishment in my eyes, since it is true that out of all of the neoprep lifestyle houses out there, it is just a select group of namely JCrew, Lands End, and Bonobos that I have referred as constant recommendations to you. Because unlike the nasty boring mainstream brands like Express, Gap, and Nautica at your local suburban shopping mall, those coveted few earlier mentioned are the kinds of mid-tier, budget friendly companies that I always resort to directing our 28 year old freshly graduated Standford MBA to splurge his last remnants of loan money at, before he heads off to his first year in the corporate world as a Bain&Co Consultant. I’ve always said that you will never go wrong with sticking with what you know, and it applies once again here. Levis 501STF for a no-hassles casual pair of denim. LLBean for Duck Boots and Norwegian Sweaters. JPress for the quintessential blue blazer. And now with the latest crop of neoprep brands that have entered our lexicon in the past two decades,

Bonobos has carved out itself as a niche leader for us proprietors, as a go-to supplier of workwear for the newly appointed white collar salary man. Going even deeper into the thick brush, let me expand on Bonobos’ rightful praise from us by going further into the company’s two other notable threads that have just as equally gained our faith. Both are huge mountains that have cornered the market long before Bonobos started its elevation ascent. There is Lands End, which you have seen me always spoken considerably well of throughout the blog. I liken this proven outfitter as a cheaper version of Granddaddy Brooks; a placeholder for when our aspiring executive for two or three years before he becomes a Manager and can then afford the real good stuff that Brooks is known for, and eventually the best stuff that Oxxford is known for to our newest Partner in an additional five years. But for the mean time in the now and ready, Lands End Hyde Park OCBDs are pretty damn good, and why I consider Lands End as my favorite value-conscious source. How about JCrew? Spoken in the same high regard by my historical penmanship, where their collection of work-ready Bowery and other such updated clothing lines provide a strong reply to our Consultant’s call for a sophisticated yet affordable career wardrobe, almost just as much as his Americana cravings for heritage brand collaborations, with gifts of JCrew x Red Wing Ranger Boots and Wallace & Barnes flannel shirts; the couple happy in marriage for chopping wood on his warrior weekends at the lakehouse.

Or maybe this budding Consultant wants a slightly debonair option for his traveling suitcase? Lands End and JCrew started out more reserved in the early days, more akin to where mommyjeans LLBean is today than striving for a sexier approach spiritually closer to applebottoms Ralph Lauren Purple Label. Lands End even now is slightly too traditional in that following-in-Granddaddy-Brooks kind of way, and JCrew has gone overboard in its fashionably forward inkling to urbanprep, which is a starched contrast to its WASPy, off-to-the-Vineyaarwwd former self just a decade ago. Surely there is an option out there that splits the two? For this All-American young executive wants all pieces of the pie, combining flamboyent preppiness that looks great in the concrete forest as it does at the yacht club. An outfitter that can successfully combine jazzy colors into sleek patterns that aren’t as offensive for the office as Vineyard Vines are. A brand that puts forth a mature statement that doesn’t also take itself too seriously, befitting of a 28 year old corporate climber that exudes calm confidence, moreso than arrogance typically attributed to a typecasted WASP inbreed. It’s okay to be perceived as a yuppie. Not okay to be summarized as a douche. And what if you aggressively target the same demographic you are in, with a streamlined operation that employs millennial-friendly tactics that undermine your brick&mortar competitors? This is what Bonobos started out with, as a “direct to consumer” sales model that relied on eCommerce and hip media hype to sell products. Only now with its stronghold in the online market has Bonobos gone back to the traditional storefront concept, with partnership with Nordstrom, and test sampling into southern markets at Belk that had started earlier this year. Bonobos is the brain child of Stanford MBA grads Andy Dunn and Brian Sparly, and I have been using my exemplary illustration throughout this article of a perfect Bonobos customer found in a young consultant executive, all for some fun jovial teasing. Since afterall, it was Mr. Dunn himself, who after a stint at Bain (where Andy consulted with now-competitor Lands End, where LE’s consumer directed techniques served as a spark for an improved delivery system he eventually innovated for Bonobos), teamed up with Mr. Sparly in business school to establish an apparel company that soon grew up to be a full range supplier of tasteful, modern clothing. Pants, shirts, and suits that compliment the active lifestyle of an upwardly mobile young guys, such as Andy and Brian themselves.

Bonobos clothing has updated tailored fitting, but so does JCrew and Lands End and most everyone else. Suit Supply, another up-and-comer that has made a great splash in the kiddie pool in recent years, is the newest adversary, as are the other rising “Made to Measure” direct-to-buyer startups. Therefore, concentrate more on the painted lifestyle that each brand correlates. What makes Bonobos special is its clean cut charisma that the others do not have. Sure, Crew and End both have GTH colors and are grounded in trad principles at their deepest roots, but they’ve become subdued and muted in their own way as they’ve adapted to our present era of Personalized Style, while Bonobos on the other hand continues to flaunt its kelly green slacks in profound blinding fury. I mean…they featured this summer a pair of limited edition patriotic pants. That is something that fratdaddy clothier Chubbies makes a living off of. But with GoneToHell designs like that, can you picture Lands End or JCrew doing the same? Nope. Yet Bonobos can sell us an outlandish preppy couture one moment, then a sublime business silhouette the next without a skipping a beat. They kind of remind me of an American version of United Colors of Bennington, just more East Coast blue blooded than Neapolitan wine fed.

If that is the kind of neoprep fortitude that you resonate the most with, then you are the ideal Bonobos candidate. Able to give a strongly gripped handshake to clients Monday thru Friday, then able to hang up his cape and opt for a soft blanket as he kicks back Saturday to Sunday watching marathons of It’s Always Sunny on Netflix. He isn’t afraid to wear his three piece power suits with speckled hints of warmth and flash, to distinguish himself from the other predators in their prairie of dark suits and french cuffed banker stripes that too live in his jungle of towering steel beamed trees.

“Ay Cranky! There he is walking in the late summer afternoon in a playful gingham and sapphire blue chinos. Perhaps he is going to the waterhole? Ahh yes, he is, to the cocktail lounge to find a mate. Notice how his skin of exquisite garments fits his healthy, athletic frame like a glove – allowing him to attract his mate more readily. What a nice specimen, this Bonobo he is!”

The takeaway point from this article is not necessarily based on how cool Bonobos is, but based on an extrapolation that can be made with the above critical thinking. Proving evermore that you can groom a skilled eye that picks out the subliminal details and background that surround each and every outfit you put on, and how these variables should react in harmony to the overall outward appearance you are going for in that specific instance. You have countless brands to utilize that all enrich your creativity in the sartorial arts, as long as you know what they each stand for and what duties they can each fulfill. Bonobos is the yuppy toy poodle of the neoprep canine litter, so you should wear their trim cuts and manicured patterns in similiar spirit. A hot date with the NYU medical student you finally were able to get a phone number from. Casual Fridays at a law office, or every day at a software developer. You can adorn one of their fashionably forward two-buttoned sportcoats to the corporate lunch meeting at 12:30pm, then hop a cab to midtown at 6pm to grab an afterhours tonic with your tall blond future oncologist wife. I wouldn’t suggest the same for a boxy, 3/2 roll sack blazer from JPress. That would be for dinner at the steakhouse when you first meet your soon to be in-laws.

Thanks for hanging on with me. Now that I have set the stage, here are the key actors for you to direct. The below is the mini press junket exclusive to publishers that Mr. Bornstein of Bonobos had sent to me.

“Suit up for Fall! We’ve made our signature Italian wool Foundation suit even better this fall with brand new fabrics and updated interior details, including a more ergonomic interior pocket so grabbing that business card is as smooth as your first impression. A finely-tailored wool suit is warm on its own, but you can always add a topcoat into the mix. Our suits come in Standard and Slim fits, and Short, Regular and Tall sizes, so you can find the perfect fit for you.”

The Lookbook

Black shawl tuxedo & Midnight Blue peak lapel tuxedo

My critique:

The Pros are plentiful. Italian and English wools. Beautiful patterns. Minimal construction, slim lapels, trim tapering and lengths – all that a fashionably forward aesthetic demands. Standard chest sizes with Regular and Long options. Bonobos suits are very nice no doubt, but what I really like from their collection are their tailored tuxedos. I’d recommend them for fun dinner parties with your group of friends, especially around the winter holidays. A stylish way to ring in the New Year. I love the novelty Blackwatch Plaid.

The Cons are subject to personal taste. The jacket length is borderline reasonable for my standards of contemporary occasion, but I’d certainly be self-conscious at an interview or on the job in a conservative field. Needs to be a tad longer (“CYA”…cover you ass) for it to be optimal in all events. Although, I suspect the jackets the models in the promotional and catalog pictures are wearing correlate to a low chest size, maybe a 36 or 38. If you have a broader chest like I do, then the length may be more manageable. Pricepoint is my largest conflict, which you can view on the site for your own scrutiny. Half-canvas I believe. The bleeding purist in me questions the “cost to quality” ratio. Since the product description is inconclusive of final origin of manufacturing, I’ll assume they are imported even if the fabric is from Italy and England (although to be fair this is in the same format that many other companies follow, such as rival JCrew.) And Bonobos does have some select products made domestically, such as their White Oak Mill sourced denim, which is thesame supplier of my favorite jean brand, Raleigh Denim.

All in all, the charming aesthetic that Bonobos has with this season’s collection anchors an elegant portfolio that one expects a resourceful young gentleman to draw from. When combined with the validation of points made in this article, you hopefully have a clearer grasp on the intricate roles that every brand’s inherent personality contributes to our daily wardrobe choices. My one gripe for the above collection is the pricepoint, but this will obviously depend on individual budget allowance.

There is a time for Brooks Brothers. There is a time for Bonobos.

*****

“Ay Cranky! There he is walking in the late summer afternoon in a playful gingham and sapphire blue chinos. Perhaps he is going to the waterhole? Ahh yes, he is, to the cocktail lounge to find a mate. Notice how his skin of exquisite garments fits his healthy, athletic frame like a glove – allowing him to attract his mate more readily. What a nice specimen, this Bonobo he is!”

[Tour ends.]