In my new, and sure to be infrequent column, I’m discussing brands of note, some old, others new, and those long gone. As someone interested in the development of brands, these posts are less about business, and instead about where art and industry marry in historic form.
An unexpected brand making well-deserved headlines is J. Crew. Yes, that one. I had the same reaction when a few of my trusted friends made me aware of the brand and it’s current status. My memories of the brand were from the mid-90’s, of $98 Rollneck sweaters and greater misdeeds. Now I count myself amongst the fans for this most seemingly common of brands.
In it’s current moment, J. Crew has become less of a product line and more of a sensibility. The best example of J. Crew as a ‘perspective’ is their ‘In Good Company’ collection, which combines the 2000’s obsession with brand collaboration and good old fashioned curation, pairing the company up with well-worn heritage brands like Sebago and England’s 86 year-old outerwear brand, Belstaff. This is what is affectionately call an “ethos grab” or the adoption of the traits from greater brands via their inclusion in your own.
Riding on a wave of preppy fascination ushered in by a few East Coast indie bands, men’s clothing saw a sea change in recent years towards a more subtle look, taking over for a trend of logos and bright colors. J. Crew also wisely eschewed an overt prep direction, Instead opting for classic American and work-inspired clothing.
Like any brand resurgence (Apple, being one), it starts at the top and it infects the whole company. Mickey Drexler is the patriarch of this evolution, and his attitudes towards hiring and culture have informed the brand’s ascendency since he joined in 2003. Creative director Jenna Lyons has become a celebrity in her own right.
The inclusion of Andy Spade, co-founder (with his wife) of Kate Spade and his own confusingly named Jack Spade brand, was another brilliant hire, whose sly blend of Midwestern charm and a hint of old school smarm (David Spade is his brother) created the best asset perhaps of J. Crew-dom, the Liquor Store shop in Tribeca. A barely refurbished bar as men’s shop, and a signless work of retail genius.
“It’s odd that people think they have to brand everything with their own name to be successful. Certain companies are experts at certain things. I love brands that show humility and don’t try to be all things to all people. How many brands that got bigger got better?”
Golden Age: 2008- ?
Typeface: Goudy Old Style