It’s no surprise that J. Crew has undergone quite a style overhaul in the last five years. Since Jenna Lyons took the throne as the Creative Director she has transformed the aesthetic of the brand from a one-stop-shop for preppy closet staples to a style powerhouse that presents snappy, elegant attire with an on trend, high fashion point of view. It’s as if the “girl” for whom they are designing is no longer the one who lives and breathes by the rules of The Preppy Handbook, but the ever-polished, smart girl who comes off both fashion forward and effortlessly cool. The J. Crew seasonal presentations at New York Fashion Week are highly anticipated by industry editors and tastemakers alike due to the aspirational brand’s on point accessorizing and mixing of patterns, textures, and hues.
With NYFW less than a week away and the recent release of J. Crew’s September Style Guide, I was reminded of an incident that criticized the style direction of the brand a few months back. On July 24, 2013 Forbes online posted an article titled ‘How To Get J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler On The Phone,’ written by author Chris DeRose about his wife Elizabeth’s discontent with J. Crew’s styling as of late. She took action and sent an email to the anonymous “J. Crew 24-7” address.
“I am so disheartened and disappointed that you are leaving your core values and styling and abandoning your loyal customers,” she wrote.
Shockingly, Drexler and J. Crew President Libby Wadle took the criticism very seriously, picked up the phone themselves, and made contact with Mrs. DeRose 24 hours later (Lyons was, apparently, on a family vacation but would have been on the call). The themselves part is what makes this story so interesting and relevant to the corporate retail world today.
I can’t help but wonder what made highest-ups Drexler and Wadle want to get on the phone with this “loyal customer” who criticized J. Crew’s styling image but not with the people/person who, say, accused J. Crew of using sweatshops to produce their garments (this lawsuit was settled in 2006). It is impossible for the company to respond to every harsh complaint made, but what was it about this complaint that struck such a chord with the executives: the visual image of their brand? By hearing Mrs. DeRose out, Drexler and Wadle were ultimately admitting that yes, things have changed and yes, there are enough people who feel this way to make this a legitimate concern for their brand. By the end of their conversation, Drexler assured Mrs. DeRose that they are, “on it for sure…I hope you see a difference this fall.”
I have been and (probably) always will be a J. Crew devotee, and I personally applaud Jenna Lyons for the style point of view she has indoctrinated into the brand. But change, especially for a brand who has been around for 30 years, can be tough and is often met with objection.
Below I have compared outfits from the 2012 (on the left) collection and the 2013 (on the right) September Style Guide based on similar items of clothing. What do you think? Do you like the fashion-forward iteration of J. Crew personal style or are you more in favor of a toned-down, styling detox that Drexler insisted would be implemented this fall?