Success built on family business By: Holly Selby


May 16, 1991

In the early '60s, while other would-be designers were in New York soaking up as much artsy inspiration as they could, young Barry Bricken was in . . . College Park, earning a degree in . . . accounting.

But who ever said accountants can't have fun, aren't inspireand probably wouldn't make anybody's list of most-likely-to-succeed as fashion designers?

With a fall line that includes wool skirts with dramatiblue-and-coral color blocking for women and jackets in washed silk for men, two new stores in Dallas and Chicago, a clothing business that topped $25 million last year, to say nothing of his very own airplane, Baltimore native Mr. Bricken has proven that business sense makes very good fashion sense indeed.

To say nothing of fun.

As it happens, the 47-year-old New York designer and his older brother, Owings Mills resident Robert Bricken, have built a Baltimore family business into men's and women's clothing collections sold throughout the United States and Japan.

"It is a story of a second generation taking over a company anbringing innovations and the energy to create a collection," says Tom Julian of the Men's Fashion Association in New York. "Barry Bricken has an understanding of traditional clothing, yet is forward looking."

What he means is that the Barry Bricken collection (sold locally at stores such as Octavia at the Village of Cross Keys, Claire Dratch in Bethesda and J. S. Edwards Ltd. in Pikesville) embodies a certain American something with a dab of Euro-something else that makes devotees out of many shoppers and fashion experts grope for adjectives.

Some describe him as not-quite-American-traditional like RalpLauren or Liz Claiborne, but not really European sexy-progressive like Armani either.

Others have called him the poor man's Ralph Lauren -- but aaround $75 for a Barry Bricken shirt or $175 for a skirt, that description doesn't seem just right either.

As Stanley Gleiman, manager of J. S. Edwards, says: "His customer is usually someone who can wear an updated traditional look. . . . It's an adult look, not a kids' look. It's not like Claiborne -- more a European je ne sais quoi. . ."

And to think it all began here in Baltimore with some trousers.

In 1945, Morris Bricken, Barry's father, started a men's pantbusiness, then called Dan-Mar. While Morris was busy manufacturing pants, the Bricken boys grew up in Northwest Baltimore and earned college degrees -- from the University of Maryland for Barry and from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., for Robert.

And even way back then, Barry Bricken loooved clothes.

"He was always a clothes horse," says Robert, who handles the business end of things. "His nickname in college was 'Cloth.' "

Perhaps deservedly. After all, the young Barry was known to travel all the way to New York just to buy Brooks Bros. clothing. "Those were the days when the Ivy League style came in and I was the original preppie," Barry says, then adds as though confiding something: "I like clothes."

Despite his aesthetic leanings, Barry Bricken majored in business rather than design because "my father had taught me all that already -- I thought it would be repetitive. He taught me how to pick fabrics and goods and to see quality," he remembers. "That was a big part of my training. . . . He would get upset if something wasn't perfect.

"I think that's one of the reasons we are successful: I'm not just another designer. I know how to merchandise it and get it to the people."

In 1969, at his father's suggestion (who, being a man oforesight, predicted that the fashion future lay in designer names) the company was renamed Trousers by Barry and later, as it expanded, changed to the more upscale-sounding "Barry ** Bricken."

"In the late '60s we came into the business, but we really wanteto expand it," says Robert. "So I ran the company and Barry moved to New York. He did the styling and we branched into a much higher scale of clothing.

"We went into women's wear and in the mid-'70s the business took off for us. . . . and we've really gone nationwide and into Japan."

For awhile the brothers ran a clothing store on Charles Street -using the retail experience to hone their marketing skills. "We named it Stonehenge -- because it was English sounding," says Robert. "We found out there were a lot of products that couldn't be found, like higher [priced] men's pants and jackets. It really taught us what we wanted to do. It was an experiment -- it catered to the original yuppies. Upwardly mobile business men who have now grown up."

And the all-in-the-family approach to fashion has served thBrickens well.

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