Why J.Crew’s Recent Troubles Feel Personal To Me
If you turn to fashion news as a reprieve from the actual, often frightening news, then you've probably heard about the recent issues J.Crew has had: falling sales; its trend-setting, black-rimmed-glasses-wearing president and executive creative director Jenna Lyons leaving; its legendary CEO Mickey Drexler stepping down just a few months later. The well-documented troubles the popular prepster brand has endured have been building over the last few years and have been partly blamed on Jenna creating looks that appeal to the fashion set more than the masses. I, for one, am a huge fan of what she did at J.Crew and of Jenna herself. She made glasses look cool, made sequins look casual and successfully mixed colors and prints like few others can.
This slow demise of the beloved brand has somehow felt personal for me, with each story of the company's struggles and exiting executives feeling like a personal affront. When Jenna left, I was shocked. I'm embarrassed to admit I may have even felt a little abandoned. When the news of Mickey leaving his position broke shortly afterward (he does, however, remain chairman), I felt listless and melancholy, like the way you feel when a dear friend moves away or your parents move out of your childhood home. You always knew it could happen, but you didn't think it would be today.
I grew up looking forward to the J.Crew catalogs arriving in the mail to my home in Ohio. In fact, I'm only slightly hesitant to admit that when I first started ordering my roll-neck sweaters (a vintage J.Crew staple), I would call—yes, call—the number in the catalog and slowly read off the style numbers to the person on the other end of the line, making sure to say each number in the correct order so as not to have an Amber Heather sweater arrive on my doorstep instead of the Charcoal Heather I so badly wanted. Then, I would patiently wait for that brown envelope emblazoned with the J.Crew logo to arrive. Once it did, I would excitedly try on all of my new goods and then plan out which day of the week I would wear each one to high school. If my youth was sponsored by a brand, it would undoubtedly have been J.Crew (that, and the ubiquitous Patagonia pullover fleece).
And now, here we are, the brand's two leaders gone, its future unknown. A few years ago, when Jenna was making more fashion-forward wares, I would say a good portion of my wardrobe was J.Crew. I'll admit that is no longer the case. I still order a piece or two every season, for sure, but not nearly the amount I once did. Perhaps J.Crew's pendulum swing back to what the so-called masses wanted just doesn't appeal to my personal style, or maybe there are just so many options in the market today for reasonably priced casual wear. Whatever it is, I fear I contributed to the problem that has left my beloved brand in such disarray. Certainly, I never spent enough to have a real effect on their bottom line, and yet I still feel a little responsible, like I let down a friend I've known since my teens.
What the future holds for J.Crew is still to be determined, but I will be rooting for them. Even without Jenna and Mickey at the helm, I'd like to think there could be another triumphant chapter for this brand that helped define preppy Americana for so many of us. I'll be rooting, and whenever possible, shopping too, allowing my retail obsession to—in my eyes—do a little good for a struggling old friend. After all, who doesn't love a comeback story? And I'll always remain hopeful that they'll bring back that cozy roll-neck sweater, because some pieces—like brands—are simply timeless.