Brutus is the iconic brand best known for its button-down Trimfit shirt, worn with pride by skinheads and mods since ’66. Having successfully relaunched the brand in 2010, Brutus owner Jonathan Freedman talks to Selectism about new discoveries, decision-making and what’s in store for the year ahead.
Partnering with London-based "LAW" magazine, Brutus is a constantly evolving platform that is steeped in UK subculture and iconic visuals. The brand delivers sharp cuts and bold color with a sense of timelessness that comes from years of knowing what people want. With a huge following of Brutus fans, the brand is firmly back on its feet and heading toward becoming essential everyday wear for a new generation.
On the History of Brutus
"Brutus began when my father, a then 17-year-old Keith Freedman, joined his father's wholesale business and had the idea of producing a white roll neck pullover. The family business supplied household goods to wholesalers up and down the country from a warehouse in the East End, and one day they had the idea of venturing into clothing, starting with a classic working man's sweater.
They planned to produce the roll necks in dark colors -- red, brown and green -- but Keith thought they should try white, and it quickly became the most popular sample. Suddenly, menswear shops like Vince in Carnaby Street were interested in placing an order. After that, Keith designed a half-page ad for a fashion magazine and the orders started flooding in.
At the time, Brut was the most popular men’s aftershave and Keith and his brother coined "Brutus" on the back of this. In a matter of months, Brutus was born, and the white roll neck sweaters were in popular demand by respected London boutiques.
By the late '60s, Keith was traveling to Hong Kong to source factories to produce polo shirts, heavy knitwear and half sleeve button-down shirts that you couldn’t find in the UK. Back in London, youth cults were emerging from the ground up, first with the Teddy Boys, then Mods, followed by Skinheads and Suedeheads, who made the Brutus shirts a staple and gave it the Trimfit name."
On Taking over the brand
"A few years ago, I started looking into Brutus, after the brand had died down a little. I was trying to find out what people remembered about the brand, and I soon discovered that the Trimfit shirt had huge cult status.
I found that both the V&A and the Museum of London owned original Trimift shirts, and that there were avid collectors around the world with 20 or 30 original shirts, still in their plastic wrapping, hanging in their wardrobes.
I started a Facebook page and very quickly hundreds and then thousands of people joined. People were keen to share stories about the shirt and memories of the first time they wore one, plus the adventures they’d had in trying to track down an original.
At the same time, I was also trawling eBay and vintage clothing shops to buy back original Trimfits, which were selling for hundreds of Pounds. My father didn’t keep anything. There was no archive really, so I started building my own. I sourced old press cuttings and tracked down original adverts. It was a fascinating process and opened my eyes to a world I didn’t even know existed.
I started to meet up with Brutus collectors and enthusiasts and their insight was invaluable. One lady lent me a number of her shirts and I decided to track down the original factory in Hong Kong that that they were made in, to see if they could make a sample collection for me based exactly on these original shirts, complete with original packaging and detailing.
The samples came back looking great and I went out on the road calling independent stores up and down the country and started taking orders. Word got out that the Trimfit shirt was back and I soon started to be contacted by retailers all over Europe, USA and Asia. We now have over 100 independent stockists selling Brutus around the world and sell shirts around the globe on a daily basis from our website.
It gives me great pleasure to be able to relaunch the company that my father started when he was just 17. It’s amazing how many lives the brand has touched and how much positivity those who wore Brutus have toward it. At the same time, introducing the brand to new, conscious consumers is a real privilege."
"I have met so many creative people through Brutus, and none more so than John Holt. I met John when he was fresh out of University in 2010, and had already made the first copy of his magazine, "LAW" (Lives and Works). We immediately knew there was a great deal of synergy between "LAW" and Brutus.
"LAW" documents elements of British style, which are often overlooked by mainstream fashion magazines and street-style bloggers. The magazine has an eye for British culture and John has made it his mission to document the story of what people in Britain are really wearing, doing, collecting and feeling. John has an incredible way of making the magazine accessible and appreciated by butchers and builders, as well as revered fashion industry figures.
Brutus has a realness in its DNA that "LAW" is able to bring out and make current. With "LAW" comes a massive gang of young creatives whose input over the last couple of years has been instrumental in bringing Brutus back."
On the future of Brutus
"As the brand grows, we are working on a new collection of classic knits, jackets, trousers and basics for Spring/Summer 2016. The idea is very much to recreate classic looks and reflect on the brand's rich heritage. We’re excited that Spring/Summer 2016 will mark 50 years of Brutus and this collection will reference timeless styles from the early days that simply can’t be messed with."
Interview: Lydia Garnett/Selectism.com