Oh, Mickey, what a ROW at J.Crew!

My plea to J. Crew's CEO, Mickey Drexler: Don't settle for VANILLA!Recently, Chris DeRose, a Forbes magazine writer, wrote an article “How to get J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler on the Phone.” Mr. DeRose’s wife, Elizabeth, a stay-at-home mom of 15 years, wrote an email to J. Crew’s anonymous “J. Crew 24-7” address stating, “I am so disheartened and disappointed that you are leaving your core values and styling and abandoning your loyal customers. I would have thought you had learned your lesson at the Gap!! Why mess with these iconic brands and change them into something they’re not?”

Within 24 hours Mickey Drexler was on the phone with her along with a design director inquiring about her shopping habits, personal history and what she would like to see changed in the brand’s design and merchandising.

Geez, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall! I am baffled by her complaints. J. Crew is doing an awesome job in catering to a wide audience by expanding its offerings. In fact, revenue is up from last year.

J. Crew fell into blandness and was rescued by Mickey Drexler in 2002 who injected great excitement. He hired Jenna Lyons as Executive Creative Director and together they reinvented J.Crew into a trend-worthy, go-to clothier. Former nondescript apparel was transformed with quality fabrics, artisanal details, vibrant colors, prints, embellishments and shapes. Jenna Lyons utilized her quirky sense of style to merchandise and showcase a new twist on the classics. Collaborations with other specialty brands along with their foray into bridal and wedding apparel made this brand one to watch.

J. Crew Style board

An evolved J. Crew brand – Choices for all.

Mr. Drexler, I sympathize with you! It’s so difficult for a company to reinvent itself by offering new and exciting product, yet still keep former customers satisfied. Staying fresh and being competitive on so many levels takes tremendous ingenuity and resources. Why, even Net-a-porter, the high-end designer trailblazing e-commerce site, carries select J.Crew pieces. You’re doing something right, so why did this customer’s email get your goad and prompt you to respond?

I read more related articles and other consumer comments about the brand. I was disappointed by the bitter and unwarranted criticism expressed by the public of my dear J.Crew.

Complaint #1 – ‘prices are too high’.

Prices too high? This drives me crazy! Walmart, Target, K-Mart and fast fashion chains have trained people to expect down and dirty prices. Quality costs money. Materials, labor and freight have gone up in price-even in Asia. People are comparing apples to oranges in this matter. They have lost an appreciation for workmanship, good design and fine touches. Go to Forever 21, buy a $50 sweater and see how it fits and wears. It’s a cheaper product! For those complaining about a $150 sweater at J. Crew, go shop at H&M. If you want a high quality cashmere sweater, expect to pay $800-$1300. A good quality cashmere sweater costs about $600. Appreciate J. Crew, a brand striving to deliver a luxurious sweater with great styling and price, knitted from a median grade of cashmere.

Complaints #2 – ‘leaving your core values and styling’. This confounds me. You can still find simple items like solid colored chinos and tees. They maintain simplicity for one demographic, but they have also upped-the ante with brighter colors, jacquard prints, silk shantung jeweled pants for $750, jeans with different fits, solid color tanks and tops, along with edgier ones for more fashion savvy women.

Complaints #3 – ‘$150 for a cheap looking plastic necklace that will go out of style in a season?’ I disagree. Compare one of their necklaces to one sold at BaubleBar.com and there is a big difference in quality, materials and design. J. Crew has done a great job diversifying their jewelry line. The “Technicolor Floral” necklace is more daring and colorful than the simplicity of the “Octagon” necklace. J.Crew provides choices for all kinds of looks. Elizabeth DeRose overlooked the diversity of J.Crew’s offerings. Maybe she would prefer LL Bean or Talbots if she seeks the classic suburban look she feels is lacking. These brands might be more suitable since styles rarely deviate year after year.

Mickey Drexler, you have done a great job with J. Crew. You have expanded the brand into areas such as maternity, weddings, kids, teens, adults, a luxury line and accessories. You have even satisfied America’s favorite pastime–shopping and feeding the obsession with cheap imported goods by adding a “Factory” outlet section to your site. Every major brand from Coke to General Mills to McDonald’s have changed their logos, their offerings and their marketing to meet a changing world. Mickey, no need to apologize for what you have created, reinvented and innovated! You follow the model of good and profitable business practice. Do not acquiesce to banality.

Further, you are even involved in good causes such as “Garments for Good“, a custom collection which donates 100% of net proceeds to the High Line–an abandoned elevated railway in NYC, which has been turned into a park, garden and tourist destination.

Lastly, given that the majority of Americans dress VANILLA like this couple, how do you satisfy everyone? In this land of plenty, there is a nation of unhappy, dissatisfied complainers. How can this be? The favorite flavor of ice cream in the USA is vanilla. Our choices are vast, our riches abundant. Yet, vanilla and mundanity prevail.

typical American Suburban couple family

The standard American family uniform: 1. Generic baseball hat with ponytail jutting out back opening 2. Large puffy jacket, which once was relegated to the Pacific Northwest, now exists on the East Coast. 3. ‘His and hers’ white scuffed no-name sneakers 4.Slouchy ill-fitted jeans. (J. Crew needs to create an area for men that offers help with denim fitting. Signage, ‘ask us, we are here to advise you.’ Why not! Women have custom fitters, tape measure in hand, in luxury bra shops. 5. Slouchy, over-sized big box brand sweatshirt perfect to camouflage a growing waist line.

Boy, Mickey, you have your work cut out for you. It’s tough to make everyone happy all the time. There are those who eat generic gallon containers of vanilla ice cream in one sitting, and those who savor Chili-Chocolate, Nasturtium, Farmer Bob’s Sweet Corn, Goat Cheese and Roasted Beet flavored iced delicacies.

Don’t abandon ship, Mickey and Jenna. Raise up those oars and keep rowing at top speed at the inimitable J.Crew!

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3 Comments

  1. I couldn't agree more. J. Crew has never been better since Jenna Lyons came on board. What people like Mrs. De Rose are complaining about is CHANGE, not the lessening of the brand. They want to be able to go in and find the same polo shirts and chinos that they remember from their college days, back when preppy was preppy and it hadn't been hijacked by the great unwashed masses who drive the prices up (in other words, us). This brand has evolved spectacularly, and they are the better for it. I would suggest Mrs De Rose shop at Brooks Brothers or LL Bean if she wants to kick it old school

  2. Good point! They added some fun while still carrying the classics for whomever prefers them.

    I used to love JCrew, and when I was in NY my wardrobe was almost all JCrew even on a grad student budget (I used to stalk the sales). And when I came back to NY for my honeymoon could't resist buying a shirt from the 5th avenue store. I still have shoes from them from about 2004, and a down coat from 2006! Talk about quality!

    Now I don't buy JCrew stuff online because with the $/€ conversione it somehow gets too expensive – can't explain why. But I keep stalking their stuff on the web.

  3. Great commentary on this divisive issue. Banality vs. Excitement–we can't let ourselves fall into the trap of mundanity. Bravo, Miss Magdalena, for bringing this issue to the fore!

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