Once the reference brand for Michelle Obama, J. Crew has been a staple on the American fashion scene for decades but has lost its position in recent years. Now, with nearly 500 stores worldwide currently closed by the coronavirus pandemic, J. Crew Group Inc. – which manages J.Crew and Madewell – has filed for bankruptcy on Monday.
The J. Crew group began as a popular club plan in 1947, a door-to-door business selling cheap women’s clothing. In 1983 the company relaunched the role of J. Crew, a retailer for the catalog only, and positioned itself as a cheaper alternative to Ralph Lauren. The first J. Crew store opened in Manhattan in 1989, selling cheerful pre-American clothes.
But it was about ten years ago that J. Crew really took his step – changing his image from comfortable to chic, and becoming an inevitable part of the fashion landscape, from style magazines and blogs to every woman’s wardrobe.
Jenna Lyons at the Met Gala 2015, in New York City.
Under the leadership of CEO and president Mickey Drexler (now president of the Outdoor Voices sportswear brand) and Jenna Lyons, who took up the position of creative director in 2008 and was promoted to president two years later, J. Crew arrived. to embody a certain kind of elegance of the recession era.
Inspired by Lyons’ signature mix of casual design and high-end pieces (he famously wore a feathered ball skirt and a sloppy beige sweater for the 2011 Met Gala), J.Crew sold pastel buttoning and perfectly draped shirts; jackets with sequins and oversized costume jewelery; jacquard trousers and worn jeans.
Seen here in an J. Crew argyle sweater in 2012, Michelle Obama has been a huge fan of the American brand. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images
Poppy’s campaigns, led by Joan Smalls, Sasha Pivovarova, Amber Valletta, Lauren Hutton and other top models, have provided food for social media. Lyons’ approach has been so widely embraced that, in 2013, the New York Times nicknamed her “The woman who dresses America”. The brand offered a more accessible type of luxury.
First lady Michelle Obama chose a pair of J. Crew pumps for the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Credit: Douglas Graham / CQ Roll Call / Getty Images
Celebrities like Jessica Alba, Blake Lively, Gwyneth Paltrow (a 2012 campaign star) and Reese Witherspoon have often been spotted in their best J. Crew film. But their most influential celebrity fan was Michelle Obama.
Reflecting Lyon’s high and low sensitivity, Obama seemed to have the brand constantly rotating during his tenure as First Lady – J. Crew leather gloves were paired with an Isabel Toledo suit at her husband’s 2009 inauguration, a skirt salmon-colored and a sweater were worn in the pages of Vogue, the pink pumps complimented a Tracy Reese brocade dress at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Michelle Obama at “The Tonight Show” in October 2008, wearing J. Crew. Credit: Paul Drinkwater / NBCU Photo Bank / Getty Images
His influence led to both depleted stocks and stock market increases: in a 2010 study, New York University professor David Yermack found that J. Crew’s shares increased 25% after Obama wore J .Crew on “The Tonight Show” in October 2008.
But J. Crew has struggled to maintain that level of desirability in recent years, while once devoted buyers complained of the brand’s increasingly eccentric designs and ever-increasing prices. In 2017, Lyons left the brand and was replaced by Johanna Uurasjarvi the following year. She was quickly replaced by Chris Benz, who was hired in early 2019. Neither was able to rekindle interest in J.Crew.
Today, both the once profitable eclectic delicacy of Lyon, both the original argyle sweaters and the primitive chinos seem of a different time. In an era of neutral clothing, gender streetwear and – more recently – lockable lounge clothing, it seems that the trends and buyers have passed and J. Crew not. Unfortunately, irrelevance comes at a high price.