As the quintessential British boutique Browns turns 50, we look back on the fashion moments worth celebrating.
It’s impossible to talk about British fashion without pausing long and hard on the titan that is Browns. What started as a small independent boutique on London’s South Molton Street, has transformed over the past 50 years to be one of the industry’s most beloved retailers, as well as a pioneering force when it comes to supporting and spotlighting emerging talents. The ultimate multibrand store – the first of its kind when it launched in 1970 – was the brainchild of Joan Burstein (affectionately known as Mrs. B by industry insiders) and her family.
Now Browns, the go-to for in-the-know shoppers and fashion insiders, is the destination of choice for those wanting something stellar for their wardrobe. The brand’s current CEO, Holli Rogers, explains the store’s special appeal, “For me it always goes back to reinforcing style, and not from a trend prescriptive. I love Mrs B’s mantra, “When in doubt, leave it out!” The instinctive side of things Browns is such an important part of who we are. We’re here to inspire, not to tell, it’s about educating our community to make a choice that perhaps they would not be inclined to go for. That’s what makes us Browns.”
Browns was visionary in the way it championed homegrown talents; the store was the first to stock John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, but more than just snapping up their graduate collections, these emerging talents were shown side by side with the most established fashion brands of the time. The glistening 50-year long history of the brand has seen the expansion of the landmark South Molton Street store to a concept store in east London and an acquisition from Farfetch, one of the biggest fashion retailers in the world.
“Browns is and always has been a fashion institution and will continue to be an instrumental player in both the London and global retail landscape for decades to come. We were the first luxury multi-brand retailer of the time and introduced brands such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Jil Sander to the UK market and being able to steer a brand with so much legacy and history is probably one of my proudest accomplishments to date,” notes Rogers.
In a time where our relationship with fashion has been tumultuous and testing (much like the rest of the Covid-19 world), we have been reminded of the abundant joy fashion can hold – something Browns has always acknowledged. Ditching our sweats, previously on heavy rotation, in favour of a new summer dress when the sun was shining was the sartorial serotonin we didn’t know we needed, stomping around in heavy-soled boots rather than slippers has given us a renewed sense of purpose and pulling on a crisp white shirt had our productivity levels shooting through the roof. Which is why Browns is refocusing our attention on that: our height of fashion moment.
Even before the world as we knew it changed so dramatically, we could always rely on fashion to bring us up. Whether that be a birthday outfit that made us feel like we were partying in Studio 54, or a tailored suit so sharp we felt unstoppable. Here, in celebration of that feeling and Browns’ monumental 50th anniversary, we asked some of fashion’s most pioneering people to share their height of fashion moment – a memory in time where fashion was more than just the clothes on our backs, but a feeling worth rejoicing in.
Mrs. Berstein, Browns Founder
“There have been so many ‘height of fashion moments it’s impossible to name one over another’. Whether it was discovering a new designer or an ‘it’ item, or receiving my CBE from the Queen, they were always thrilling and ’in the moment’. Today I have to say that the forthcoming launch and move of Browns from South Molton Street to Brook Street is certainly my biggest height of fashion moment. It makes me feel so proud that the small boutique that I started with my husband 50 years ago still stands today as one of fashion’s greatest iconic stores that’s still looking into the future whilst still holding on to that sense of ‘family’ that is the essence of Browns.”
Zawe Ashton, Actor
“My height of fashion moment was at London Fashion Week a couple of seasons ago. I had the privilege of sitting front row at Roksanda’s (a really great friend of mine) show. I found myself in the incredible company of Billie Porter, Cate Blanchett, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson, Sheila Atim, Sally Powell and Sinéad Burke and I just thought, “Yeah this is cool!” This is what fashion is for me now. People who are artists enjoying dressing up and using this fun platform on the front row as a way of sitting shoulder to shoulder and in some way supporting each other. It was very, very cool.”
Nick Grimshaw, DJ and presenter
“For my 30th birthday, I had a massive party and I didn’t know what to wear. I saw a Topman suit that was in their runway show, and I was like ‘Ah, I want that!’ And they said ‘We’re not putting it into production’, so then I had to do my Topman range with them and they kindly let me have the suit. There was only one of them, and it was this green, glittery, disco, flared suit. I wore that for my 30th and it was SO good. But because it was from the catwalk it didn’t have any pockets or lining or anything and it was this really weird fabric. I’ve still got it. I’ve never worn it since, just that once.”
Holli Rogers, CEO Browns
“My ‘height of fashion moment’ was several years ago, I think it may have been back in 1999 when I worked at Chanel in New York. After work I went to my boyfriend-at-the-time’s apartment and I walked in and there, sitting on the sofa, was Alexander McQueen and his close collaborator and artist friend Cecily Brown. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Still to this day I remember what I was wearing, a Chanel Lesage full look and a pair of sneakers - that was a really special moment for me.”
Maximilian Davis, Designer
“Releasing my first collection with Fashion East has to be my height of fashion moment. I started the collection during lockdown and I’d had a point where I thought to myself that no-one was going to see this, no-one’s going to like it and then it was released and the response was really great.”
Images: Courtesy of Browns