Despite the tough economy, iconic American clothing brand Brooks Brothers is expanding into Canada and betting that classic elegance has long-term potential.

The brand of choice for a majority of American presidents and many Hollywood stars was founded 192 years ago in New York City and pioneered products like the button-down shirt and even the ready-to-wear suit as we know it.

While Brooks Brothers has expanded to 210 stores in the U.S. and about 70 around the world today, the company only recently decided to finally enter the Canadian market, having opened its first store in Vancouver in May and its second in Toronto recently at the end of August.

A third store is already planned for Calgary in 2010 and Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio Del Vecchio anticipates room for roughly a dozen stores eventually throughout Canada.

The expansion comes at a time when the Canadian economy is still struggling to recover but Del Vecchio says he’s not concerned about short-term outlooks since the nearly two-centuries-old brand prides itself on a long-term strategy.

“We believe the economy is going to recover eventually. We actually started talking and looking for store locations before the economy took a dive. We decided not to stop the process even if the economy slowed down, because it’s going to be a long-term investment anyhow,” Del Vecchio said.

Del Vecchio believes the company’s role as its own middleman will give it a competitive advantage in the market to allow Brooks Brothers to go toe-to-toe with established Canadian brands like Harry Rosen.

“The fact that we are maker and merchant is very important to us. Somebody like Harry Rosen, although he might have a little more selection, is buying from somebody like us, from the maker, so from a value standpoint we have an advantage there,” he said.

U.S. president Barack Obama wore a black cashmere coat and burgundy scarf from Brooks Brothers for his inauguration and the brand also provides the attire for characters on television shows like Mad Men and Gossip Girl.

The popularity of the retro-drama Mad Men has raised the mainstream profile of Brooks Brothers and re-introduced many men to the importance of a stylish suit.

“Mad Men seems to create a lot of talk — it’s about nice, clean, sharp-looking suits. I think there is a return to that. Style can change a little bit but Mad Men as a show is just reminding people that the way you dress is part of your personality. It does make the man,” Del Vecchio said.

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