Since 1818, Brooks Brothers has provided quality men’s tailoring that has stood against the test of time. What began as H. & D. H. Brooks & Co. on Cherry Street in Lower Manhattan has grown exponentially to become an internationally recognized brand and the face of American tailoring. Trends fade and styles change, but you can always depend on Brooks Brothers to provide the staple pieces you’re looking for. In 2001, tailoring took a 180 degree turn heading away from Brooks Brothers’ tried and true “power” business suiting. Sleeves were shortened excessively, bodies were cropped, and pants were hemmed just a bit too high. A red, white, and blue tag would hang from the collar, a mark left by none other than Thom Browne.
Thom Browne took suiting in a different direction. Fabrics and color choices were still thoroughly American, but the suits looked outgrown and the wearer looked like a young boy knee-deep into puberty in dire need of a new suit. The cut was beautiful to the eye, so much so that Browne won a CFDA award for Menswear Designer of the Year in 2006. In that same year, Brooks Brothers announced their collaboration with Browne that would put a new spin on their legacy. Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers was born, and a brick-and-mortar store followed shortly after. We took a stroll down Bleecker Street to check out the store and more importantly, the style. We had a chat with Gabriel Zeller about the brand, his personal style, and how it feels to be photographed consistently for street style.
So let’s start with your name and your position at the store?
My name is Gabriel Zeller and I’m the Master Specialist of Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers.
How long have you been working for Brooks Brothers?
I’ve been working for Brooks Brothers for about 9 years now, but I started with Black Fleece when we started the collection about 5 years ago.
Does Black Fleece Complement your personal style outside of the store?
Yes, very much. I pretty much only wear Black Fleece these days even when I go out.
Have you always worn your suit cropped?
*Laughs* No I haven’t. It actually became something I grew into in the very beginning in 2007. I had a variety of different trouser lengths that I would experiment with, some that were very short and some that were a little more traditional. I sort of found my own place in it where now they’re all pretty consistent, but I think it’s important to experiment and go outside of where you’re comfortable and find what works for you but not because other people are doing it, rather because it really matches your aesthetic.
Do you think that menswear is starting to head in that direction where everyone’s not following the same beat of the drum?
Totally! I think it’s pretty fresh. I think it’s inspiring to see, because you’re always looking to see what the next dude is doing, you’re always looking to see someone’s personality reflected in their style, and it’s nice that not everyone is doing the same thing at the same time. We can have coexisting personalities and styles running around and one doesn’t knock the other for being different. It’s a nice thing.
So you brought up personalities and style. You get photographed often for street style, what’s everybody’s first impression of you from photos?
People do approach me which is nice, because it means that I get photographed to look somewhat approachable. I’m pretty much myself wherever I go, I’m actually surprised that people recognize me. I’m usually flattered *laughs* I don’t consider myself as much frills.
Do people recognize you from the photos?
They do. It’s interesting, I’m probably photographed more in Japan. For some reason I’m in dozens of magazines in Japan. One night I was out with my buddies and we were outside of a bar and this guy recognized me and started bowing and he kind of like backed away from me while bowing. My buddies were like what the hell is that? I felt like I was in Coming to America! It was crazy, but that does happen. I get people that are like, “Are you Gabriel?” and they take their picture with me and I think it’s surreal. I don’t really consider myself famous by any means, but it’s a trip.
Do you think that anybody is going to be surprised that you quit smoking?
I think a lot of people are going to be let down actually *laughs* I gotta tell ya I feel much better. I appreciate the smell of autumn in NYC, but I don’t appreciate the smell of the subways.
Ahh, any subway or city horror stories?
There’s a story from back in 2007 when Thom Browne was very much a novelty in NYC, where you would walk around and people would actually stare and say, “Wow look at that guy’s short pants!” I was living down in Little Italy, and I was walking through Chinatown at about 2 a.m. and there were a bunch of teens like 16 or 17 years old just goofing off on the block. I was there in a very short suit that I had, beautiful grey flannel suit, and I can hear them saying things like, “Look at my man’s pants! Look at my man’s pants!” and then one of the kids said, “Nah bro that’s that Thom Browne.” and I just turned around and gave him a little head nod and kept it moving. It was the coolest thing it was like a true New York City moment where people you don’t expect to know something actually know.
Photography by Donnell Culver