For those of you who have not yet heard about J. Crew and Jenna Lyons (pictured) - you soon will! Shortly to arrive on these shores J.Crew is about to embrace British fashion lovers in a very big way and Jenna is the quirky young creative force behind the name. Learn more from the interview below which first appeared in the National Post, Canada:
When the venerable American retailer J.Crew was born as a catalogue business in 1983, it was an ultra-preppy brand. Who could have imagined their signature look would evolve to include both madras stripe and saucy leopard print? Jenna Lyons started as an assistant designer in 1990, and as she ascended to become the company’s president and executive creative director, J.Crew’s glamour quotient grew accordingly. The opening of the retailer’s first Canadian store in Toronto on Thursday (with more stores to come in key cities across Canada) coincides with the launch of a new Canadian catalogue and website. Lyons and her much-admired personal style were in attendance, bringing with her the clinking of bracelets and an arresting Astroturf-green sequined pencil skirt paired with gauzy Breton-stripe sweater. Nathalie Atkinson sat down with Lyons to talk value, colour and feathers. Click images below to enlarge.
Q Styling plays an important role in the brand, both in merchandising the store and in the catalogue.
A And there’s a lot of personalization here [in Canada], which I love. That works really well for us because so much of what we do is about that, making things your own. We try to show a similar item in many different ways. One of the nice things about having a catalogue is that every month we’re able to show maybe the same sweater but completely differently. One month it might be with little shorts and ballet flats and really casual, the next a pencil skirt, more jewellery and more tailored, and the next might be with a slouchy men’s trouser. We also might be giving you a way to wear it that you hadn’t thought of, that moment of ‘I already own that sweater, maybe I’ll buy those pants.’ Or, oh gosh, you’d forgotten about a piece and pull it out and wear it a different way. That’s so important — that people feel that they’re getting value and quality out of something and not just style. I think everyone works really hard — we know what it means to part with your cash and want you to feel good about what you’ve bought. And also that there’s a quality of timelessness so that you’re not shelving it three months later and feeling just, ugh.
Q Since 2008, there’s been a monthly feature called Jenna’s Picks, singling out non-J.Crew products that you love. This seems to be a time, not just at J.Crew, but places like Net-a-Porter, when retailers are edging more and more into creating editorial for their customers.
A I think there is a need to make things feel a little more intimate and exciting and people are looking for a level of integrity, and a different level of interest, in something. For instance, we’ve been selling branded products that we buy like Sperry, Alden Shoes and Lulu Frost jewellery. One of the things of having that curated element and things feeling a bit more, to your point, editorialized is that it’s not all about us. It’s about our point of view on all kinds of things. I think people want that — most people don’t have the time to really shop and find things on their own, so being able to have something curated for someone well, nine times out of 10 you’re interested in the same things your friends are interested in. That’s how it works, right? So if you like the group of people who are making the clothes, chances are very good that you’re going to like some of the other things we’re looking at, whether it’s the best lipstick we think is out there or the right nail polish, the book, the sunscreen, the perfume or the record.
Q The approach to women’s collaborations seems a bit different from the mens heritage brands like Red Wing or Thomas Mason.
A There’s also for us, I think, a generosity of spirit to talk about somebody who’s maybe a young and unknown designer and give them some exposure that maybe they didn’t have. That is important to us, the idea of being generous, supporting those who don’t have the same voice, audience and exposure that we do. We mail three million catalogues a month so there’s a lot of people who get to see your name if you’re on a page! And that’s a nice thing to be able to do.
Q On the runways and in designer fashion, colour is the new neutral. J.Crew went heavy on colour this fall, too. How do you know when the core customer is ready for that trend, to make fuchsia pants the new basic?
A When we think about it too much, I think we stumble. We do what we think is right and there is a pulse that we feel inside the office. Do I think that [customers] were as ready for the fuchsia pant and the blue or red pant as we thought? They were actually so ready for it that we don’t have any more stock in it, which is kind of a bummer! I think we can under-estimate in some cases what the customer is ready for.