It's a sad story in some ways, and an elegy of sorts. Of course, the main outlines of BB's history is well known to most of us in these forums. Looked at, however, in comparison with many of the companies that have risen and fallen, or not fallen, it seems clear that the critical factor is in adapting to new environments and changing times. There are only so many ways in which a company can change, especially a company that deals with clothes and styles, before losing the very heart and core of what made them so vibrant in the first place, in the early and middle periods of their history.
Consider the fact that Brooks Brothers, a company established as far back as 1818, has continued, in one form or other, for 202 years before filing for bankruptcy. I don't know of many companies in this country or elsewhere which have demonstrated that kind of staying power, without morphing into areas that are completely different from what they started out with. The East India Company comes to mind (1600-1857) but they were in a very different business altogether! So BB has had a pretty good innings, and sooner or later, it has to close down, or become something else entirely.
J Press, OConnell's, Mercer and Sons, et al have survived because they did a very focused job of catering to a small, but devoted clientele. And they remained small, instead of expanding wildly and managing store locations all over the world. There is a lesson to be learned here from looking at geographical empires. In a wonderful book, The Collapse of Complex Societies, the anthropologist Joseph Tainter analyses the causes of the end of three empires: The Western Roman Empire, the Maya Civilzation and the Chaco Culture, the latter two in the New World. One of the points he makes is that there comes a time in the development and aging of such empires, where the complexity and extensiveness of an empire becomes too involved and demanding to hold together and sustain, economically and administratively. At that point, things begin to collapse and drastic change becomes inevitable. Perhaps such an analysis can be applied to the rise and fall of clothing empires. In this spirit, it might be instructive to see how other clothing businesses like Ralph Lauren, will do in the long run. I think RL has adapted quite a bit, and so far, does not seem to have lost some of the core ideas and approaches he started out with, although it is crystal clear that he has continually adapted to contemporary trends as they arise.
Just a few thoughts. I will cherish the old Brooks Brothers clothes that I have, and reflect on its long history. The Buddhists have a good point: Life, and everything in it, is transient and impermanent. And the Tibetan Buddhists have a famous saying: Life is a house on fire. Curiously enough, Tennessee Williams said this too!