Slowly but surely the J.Crew hype reached Germany. Let’s have a look to Jenna Lyons, creative force behind J.Crew and how she has turned the staid clothing brand into a billion-dollar business.
So it’s not like J Crew was this dowdy preppie place that only came up recently because Michelle Obama liked it. It’s been around for years. Maybe a while back it went downhill a little and I guess it came back up recently.
J Crew’s transformation happened when ex-Gap CEO Millard “Mickey” Drexler came on board as chairman and CEO in 2003. “We had a lot of things to fix – financially, aesthetically, we needed an overhaul,” explains Lyons. “Mickey wanted to nurture the brand and make it beautiful by elevating the product via better design, better fabrics. He was the one who really spearheaded this change in direction.” You only have to cast an eye over the figures to see that it’s working. Total sales in 2003 were just short of $690m; by 2011 that figure had soared to just under $2bn.
Millard “Mickey” S. Drexler (b. August 17, 1944) is the current chairman and CEO of J. Crew Group
“…He even checks in from holiday – he’s like: ‘Hey, I’m in Saint-Tropez; it’s gorgeous here! Anyway, I’m having lunch at Club 55 and you should see all these people wearing white! We should do more white, it’s summer, do we have enough white?’ It’s hilarious – I love it.”
J. Crew’s cashmere products were terrible years ago, Drexler simply said to “change it,” and now the company is known for its cashmere.
Lyons’s love of fashion started when she was young. She was born in Boston and moved to California aged four. She had a hard time at school – long; lanky; imperfect teeth; an insecure misfit, which made her easy prey for the other kids. “It made me introverted, but it was also the reason I loved fashion, because it can change who you are and how you feel, and that can be magical.” Lyons has been with J Crew since 1990 when she joined as an assistant designer and has held a variety of positions including creative director since 2007 and president since last year.
According to Forbes magazine she has icon status comparable to the likes of superstar designers like Donna Karan and Miuccia Prada.
What would Jenna advice, who was trying to get into fashion?
“The most important advice I would give to somebody who is young is if you don’t love it, if you’re not obsessed, don’t do it, because it’s actually quite hard. I think with Project Runway and all these shows, you get the idea that anybody can do it—they glamorize it. When I started out at J.Crew I took the job without even asking what the salary was, I was just so excited! But the reality is the hours are long, and you may or may not get a lot of reward, so you really have to love it. I’ve done a couple of talks at Parsons, because that’s where I went, and one thing that was interesting to me was when I asked the room, “Who here knows what Lanvin is?” and everyone raised their hand. Then I said, “Who designs Lanvin now?” and about five people raised their hand. I said, “Okay, you five are obsessed enough to go on.”
Jenna’s top three fashion tips!
First of all, people make mistakes by not playing up their body traits. If you’re tall, wear skinny cropped pants and high heels. If you’re curvy, wear siren dresses; if you’re really little or short, wear short skirts. Don’t worry about what the trend is. For instance, high-waisted really long pants are back in, but I’m sorry, if you’re five foot two, they’re just not for you. Don’t get caught up in that — play to your strengths. I’m relatively tall [six foot] so I always wear heels and I have awful legs but no one would ever know because I never show them. Work with what you’ve got. Also try to create something that is signature, that’s a little bit yours: That could be a locket you always wear, or something from your grandmother, or you could always have hot-pink nail polish. Let your personal style come through.
J.Crew’s becoming known for collaborations with top designers. Who’s next on the list?
“I would love to do something with Louboutin, and I do love the shoe designer Pierre Hardy. Or Phoebe Philo [who’s currently designing Céline], if she would ever do something with us. I mean, it’s all just a dream.”
Still not in love with Jenna, Drexler and J.Crew?