Remaking J.Crew: Creative Director Brendon Babenzien on Year Two of the Brand's Reboot

Those subtle things, they become the reality, as you push for change. So you’re not really hitting people over the head. It’s kind of a gradual process. And as people see things or hear things over and over, those things become normalized. I think that’s kind of how you do it. It’s not some big secret.

So for a J.Crew customer, it’s a slow, gradual change, as it should be. I’m not that invested in trends, and I never have been. I can’t even imagine a world where we go in, and we say to our customer, Hey, you were doing this, and now we think you really need to do this. That would be really bizarre. It’s just too abrupt, and it would feel unnatural. I would even go a step further—change isn’t always necessary for everybody either.

I don’t expect, nor would I want everyone, to eventually end up in Giant-fit chinos. That would be just as bad for me. Because that’s also a form of monoculture, right? We’re just telling them to go from here to there. What I would love for society in general is for people to be more themselves, and actually be confident in being themselves, whatever that means to them.

Some people feel more comfortable in baggy stuff, some people feel more comfortable in slim stuff, and that’s how it should be. I like the idea that our industry is a little more supportive of the individual, rather than trying to control the individual, and dictate to them who they should be.

That’s really what marketing and advertising often does. It’s, like, This is who you should be now. The business functions in a way where we need people to buy new things all the time. So we tell them, Here’s some new stuff. Check it out. This is who you are now. That’s why there’s billions of dollars spent on advertising and marketing agencies to convince people to buy new things.

J.Crew’s marketing has always been a strong suit. Under your tenure, it’s been wildly effective at appealing to this very particular cohort of menswear obsessives. Is that the goal? What about the layman J.Crew enthusiast?

I want people to connect with the actual brand lifestyle, the real meaning behind it. And J.Crew, historically, is a pretty honest business.

It’s kind of, like, We love the beach, and we love dogs, and we love getting outside, and we love travel. If you’ve ever spent any time with the people at J.Crew, in the organization, that’s all genuine. That’s who these people really are. And that’s what I love about it. And some of the policies in the organization follow that mindset. The way people treat each other in the organization follows that mindset. It’s a pretty cool place, which to some people might be surprising, because it’s quite a large organization. But it’s pretty human.

And that’s what I’m trying to get across to people more than, Buy this shirt. It’s trying to encourage people to live a really full life more than anything else. And clothes, for better or for worse, just play a role in that life. We have to get dressed. I encourage people to support brands that, in a sense, support them for who they are, rather than trying to tell them who to be.

Courtesy of J.Crew

Courtesy of J.Crew

That lack of pretension feels like a distinctly American contribution to the fashion canon, too. What J.Crew does best is sell thoughtful, quality clothing at a price point—and from a perspective—that isn’t intended to be exclusionary.

That’s the hope, right? But when you start talking about economics, what you and I might think isn’t exclusionary, is to others. For plenty of people, J.Crew might even be a little bit out of their range.

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