A New Crew

I wrote this more than a month ago but then my perfectionist side got in the way and I stalled publishing for almost two months. Anyhow it’s far from perfect but it’s not appalling. Here we go…

I visit a handful of fashion sites daily – Refinery29, Fashionista, GQ, The Cut – but The Business of Fashion tends to be my first port of call each morning. Earlier this month the site published a special print edition with a two-page feature on J. Crew’s Mickey Drexler and while it was a great read (no seriously, read it), it got me thinking about the steadfast role American tailoring plays in the US retail business.

The fashion preppy playbook is populated with stalwart brands like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, while Abercrombie and Hollister could feature as a keynote on the look and feel of the last decade.

But within a shifting landscape where Urban Outfitters and FreePeople have taken hold, J. Crew has continued to tiptoe on high-end and high-street profit margins, influencing shoppers with its unshakeable commitment to classic tailoring, low-key colour palettes and expertly mussed-back hair.

The interview with Drexler honed in on his ability to spot a trend and back it up through data, but failed to consider how compelling J. Crew’s success has been in the wake of unsustainable micro-trends fuelled by fast-fashion brands and an army of voracious shoppers.

Certainly J. Crew’s offering is pricey even if their product is broad, and season after season the same choice fabrics, clean silhouettes and ‘borrowed-from-the-boys’ aesthetic flood the web, offering shoppers simple upgrades on last-season pieces. But while J. Crew’s strategy sounds more regurgitation than master plan, it plays to a more selective shopper seeking coherency rather than insipid trends.

Rooted in lifestyle and functionality, J. Crew’s premium pieces appeal to a sense of aspiration while their core range relies heavily on styling – suits teamed with runners and runners lending an airy vibe to cotton dresses.

But while Americans refuse to max out on Americana, they can easily migrate to cheaper brands or premium names they feel deserving of high price tags. When shoppers grow tired of clean, directional tailoring where will J. Crew (and its global expansion) stand?

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