At some point during the last decade, the brand most people once associated with Connecticut PTA meetings did the unthinkable: it got interesting. The force behind the transition was longtime employee Jenna Lyons, who took over as creative director in in 2008 and set out to turn the label into a full fledged design house. So far, it seems to be working. J. Crew shows a high end collection at New York fashion week, featuring items like $795 trousers accented with snakeskin racing stripes. Lyons herself has become a bona fide industry celebrity.
Meanwhile, the majority of the clothing you’ll find at your standard mall J. Crew store isn’t radically different (you can still stop by any of Houston's three locations and pick up an uninteresting and reasonably-priced button down shirt), but the chatter surrounding the company in the fashion industry certainly is. Part of the the fascination with J. Crew is simply the story itself; it feels like the prepped-out frat boy coming back from summer vacation, ditching the polos, and trying out for Macbeth. The question now is not so much whether the company can reinvent itself, but how it will keep up the momentum. One thing is clear: J. Crew doesn’t want to go back to sitting at the same lunch table as Banana Republic.
In its ongoing campaign to boost its fashion cred, the company is working with up-and-coming, Anna Wintour approved designers, and on May 21, three CFDA/Vogue winners will release capsule collections for J. Crew. Tabitha Simmons, a British shoe designer with a more-is-more philosophy, has created sandals featuring layered ruffles in dainty florals. Jewelry designer Jennifer Meyer, best known as a favorite of Hollywood starlets, will release a handful of her creations, including geometric jeweled earrings. The Elder Statesman’s Greg Chait offers up his luxe-casual knitwear in summer friendly designs liked striped tank tops.
Ultimately, the products of the capsule collections themselves still look very much like what you would already expect to find at J. Crew, just with sources more in line with the conversation the brand wants to create in its new era.