Wednesday, November 28, 2012

J.Crew's Look Explained by Gayle Spannaus

A big "thanks!" to Sinead (of the lovely "classic with a twist" blog), who let us know about an article over at "Fashion Magazine" (click here to read in its entirety) that asks J.Crew's Gayle Spannaus how she achieves her look.
Beauty Visionary: Meet the woman behind J.Crew’s bright lips and mussed hair
By Kari Molvar
November 26, 2012
J.Crew has launched many obsessions over the years: cashmere V-necks, brightly coloured capris and novelty ballet flats. But the fashion retailer, which began as a catalogue-only business in the eighties, has also been not so quietly causing a beauty revolution. Flip open the catalogues, or “Style Guides” as they’re now known, and you’ll find models with electro-pop lips, windblown hair and brushed-up brows, a signature look that went over well when the brand officially presented at New York Fashion Week for the first time with its Spring 2012 collection. Collaborations with indie makeup brands Face Stockholm and Lipstick Queen have led to sold-out collections of lipstick and nail polish (not even eBay-able anymore!), and beauty boldfaces such as Linda Rodin (she of the cult face oil Rodin Olio Lusso) star in the company’s latest ad campaign. All of which is to say: J.Crew is on a big beauty roll.

So who is the mastermind behind this cosmetic zeitgeist? While quirky-cool chairman and CEO Millard “Mickey” Drexler and famously fashionable creative director Jenna Lyons have been major forces fashion-wise, much of the beauty direction happens at the hands of Gayle Spannaus. J.Crew’s fashion director and head women’s stylist, she’s been with the brand for 17 years. While working at Glamour as an assistant stylist, she would fight to be first to get her hands on the J.Crew catalogues. “When I heard there was an opening for a casting director to be in charge of hiring all the models, photographers and hair and makeup artists, I took it,” she says.

Since her arrival in 1995, Spannaus has crusaded to modernize J.Crew’s bare-face beauty approach. “It was very ‘girl next door,’ no makeup,” she says. “Very natural and androgynous, but not in a Calvin Klein way.” Her first coup was shooting Amber Valletta with her husband and puppy on a beach in 1995. “Amber was the biggest deal and we got her. I proposed the idea and it was more money than we had ever spent on a model.” It was also the first step in moving the needle. “I had a very specific instinct for what the J.Crew girl should be,” Spannaus says. “She had to have an ease. That was very important. And there had to be eye contact, a confidence—because that’s the foundation—and friendliness. If you’re not nice, it’s a one-shot deal.” Under her direction, J.Crew’s cadre of models has grown to include such well-known faces as Arizona Muse, Liu Wen and Karmen Pedaru.
After seeing Mona Lisa Smile, in 2004 Spannaus introduced bold lips, using red lipstick in the catalogues for the first time. Now, an outr√© lip colour is practically a given, along with a few other beauty J.Crew-isms. “There are certain steadfast rules with me: It’s either an eye or a lip. Never both. Ever,” says Spannaus
“Eyebrows are incredibly important, brushed up √† la Brooke Shields back in the day. I will never work with a girl with plucked eyebrows. I can say that 100 per cent of the time, there won’t be mascara on the bottom lashes—it always feels like too much. It’s taking things one step too far, to where you know the model has a lot of makeup on. And when there isn’t a lip, there will be a nail.”
Working with up-and-coming makeup lines also lends a modern edge. Last summer, Australian-born, downtown New York–based makeup pro Poppy King, founder of Lipstick Queen, collaborated with the retailer to create a limited-edition coral red lipstick, which promptly sold out. In the fall of 2011, Swedish cosmetic import Face Stockholm teamed up with J.Crew to design a range of nail polishes, from pop-art red to pearly beige, followed by a set of two lipsticks in melon and fiery red (a hot pink shade of polish is set to debut this holiday season). Essie nail polish and Stila lip glosses have also appeared in the catalogues and in stores, selected by Lyons as her picks of the season.
As focused as Spannaus is on being current, she avoids the “T” word: trendy. “There was a moment when we did black and grey nails. We did it because it was trendy, but it didn’t feel right,” she says. “Customers didn’t respond well and I didn’t respond well. There’s a good chance that if Jenna and I aren’t intuitively wearing a product, it’s not right. I feel like we try to be consistent with who we are. We’ve become somewhat of an adjective, as in, ‘That’s so J.Crew,’ and that’s pretty wonderful.”
At the same time, Spannaus knows she can’t do bright lips and tousled hair forever. She says the trick to pushing the look forward is small shifts and subtle tweaks. “It’s about going from a ponytail to a slicked ponytail, or a hard centre part to pulling the hair over the ears. Or adding a crooked part or a far side part.” On the eyes, she’s thinking about trying out electric liner. “I have a collection shoot coming up and I’m going to try some colour on the eyes for the first time. On the lids, just a slight line.”
The changes are slight but just enough to keep J.Crew apace with what’s contemporary, cool and confidant. “I’m not looking to change what we do. When you try too hard to go too far, it’s not pretty anymore,” says Spannaus. “To me, beauty is always in simplicity.” 
I love the last line about not trying too hard, and going for simplicity. It is one of the reasons I love J.Crew's offerings: they offer classics with a twist. Nothing too outrageous, but in style with the time today and tomorrow.

Now, I will share my bits of unsolicited advice... First, take away the ridiculous Jenna-glasses from the models. Enough with the Jenna clones. Seriously. Jenna barely gets away with this look. The models definitely do not. Second, bring back the smile. Forget the tousled hair or bright lips. What makes an image is the smile that radiates and shines through. I am so over seeing models tired or confused. How many catalog images did we see with a model slumped over a chair, barely staying awake? One too many, if you ask me.

What are your thoughts on the article? Any beuaity tips that you agree or disagree with? Do you like the style direction that J.Crew is taking?


  1. "There’s a good chance that if Jenna and I aren’t intuitively wearing a product, it’s not right."

    Maybe she didn't mean it that way, but that line sounds incredibly arrogant to me.

    1. No, that reeks of self-importance. I felt that intuitively as I read it.

  2. Uh, what was that about eye contact? As in, the famous deer in the headlights, blinded with sequins stare?

    That funny noise you hear is me muttering "Oh, pleeeeze" behind gritted teeth.

  3. J.Crew launched cashmere v-necks?

  4. "To me , beauty is always in simplicity"

    Stick with me, ladies , and avoid the blinding lipstick.

  5. I really, really dislike the vast majority of styling at J.Crew lately and when I first saw the title of this post/article I thought, "Yes, Gayle definitely has some splainin' to do!" I'm not impressed with the explanation.

    Alexis you are so right, they need to get rid of the Jenna glasses yesterday. Lane, ITA, IMO a bright orange lip on a bare face is just awful and it was definitely a trend whether they admit to following trends or not. The hair borders on ridiculous half the time and the styling of the clothes is beyond description. At least until I've had another cup of tea anyway.

    Because J.Crew is working to move into the higher-end fashion they are getting accolades from the fashion world and press but I am less and less impressed as their transition continues.

  6. And honestly, enough with the tousled hair already. What is wrong with looking neat and polished? If I went to work with the hair J.Crew wants me to have, people would seriously question my authority and, probably, sanity!

  7. "At the same time, Spannaus knows she can’t do bright lips and tousled hair forever."

    Now there's something to be thankful for. Looking forward to the day that this horrible look disappears from J.Crew. I would be thrilled if J.Crew styling would return to something like this.

  8. I'm going to start keeping a list of how many fashion people take credit for introducing or popularizing a "bold lip". Lipstick has been around since Ancient Mesopotamia and everyone has been wearing all of the colors since forever, the end.

  9. Agreed with everyone. This piece is arrogant and oddly off-base. While it was fine when it first came out, orange lips and messy hair have become BORING. It isn't fresh, it isn't interesting. The J Crew catalogs (I refuse to say "style guides") have become one-note, to my disappointment.

    I'd like to see more creativity and variety in the looks, especially the hair styling.

  10. Hmm, if they figured out the customers didn't respond well to black and gray nail polish, it seems like there are some obvious additional issues (discussed to death here) . . .

    Why is it that so many JCAs are "obsessed" (to use JC's term) with the 2007 Paris catalog? Quality, classic-with-a-twist clothing and lovely smiling models! Granted, change and novelty are essential in retail, and JCAs are not necessarily a representative cross-section of their customers, but it seems like this is an important piece of marketing information . ..

  11. I'm rolling my eyes at the audacity of this woman and laughing too. Hey Gayle, there is nothing new under the sun. Nothing. She is not responsible for any new makeup or fashion trends or ideas and to claim she is outrageous.

  12. "And there had to be eye contact, a confidence—because that’s the foundation—and friendliness. If you’re not nice, it’s a one-shot deal."

    Does falling asleep and confused = confident and nice?

  13. NOt really into bold red lips. It jut does not seem appropriate for every day work like, but really into some of the pink shade they have been using in recent catalogs, those are pretty and workable

  14. *first time posting -long time lurker*. Tired of Jenna's glasses, and lipstick, and hair...How long will they ride this horse? My Jcrew catalogs are now going straight to garbage bin, same old, same old

  15. In the minority. I like this jcrew. I looked at the Paris catalogue and just don't see it as so amazing.

    I like the new prints, colors and bright lips.

    1. I like the new jcrew too.maybe not everything,but most.
      Love the orange lips!

  16. I love me a bright lip, and I purchased the Poppy King lipstick, but the orange is just hideous.

    I think the styling is somewhat better, at least there are not a million layers. I like bright colors and I'm not afraid to wear them together, but much of the "style guide" is over the top, esp. if one is not stick thin.

    One thing Talbots has done is incorporate older and larges sized models into the catalog. I love that. I know Crew won't, aspiring to high fashion as they are, but it would go a long way with existing customers.

    The Jenna glasses are just comical.

  17. I agree with you Generation Kvetch - I love a bright lip (but usually only in spring / summer - I lean towards darker colours come the fall).

    And even though the styling can be a bit old fashioned in the Talbots catalogue, the women are a great variety and look like they know what day it is (and I don't want to slap them into reality!!).

  18. I got the new catalog in the mail today (with whatshername with the red Jenna glasses and greasy center part on the cover) and nothing about it said "holiday" to me at all. The color combinations and styling looked juvenile (and seasonally inappropriate) and the two-page spread of colored skinny jeans looked like a splash page of Funny, there was a JCPenney ad in my Thanksgiving paper and some out the outfits looked completely lifted from JC, including one with red skinny cropped pants, chambray shirt, striped nautical sweater and ballet flats.

    There are a couple of new items (pear sweater, short sleeved striped top with sequined birds, windowpane boulevard trench in navy/red) but I'd say 95% of it we've seen before.

  19. I still love the J.Crew catalog, however in the past year or so I have rarely found multiple items that I "have to have" after paging through the catalog like I used to. The strange thing for me, however is that the minute I begin scrolling through the new arrivals on, I very consistently am able to fill my shopping cart with a list of items I love, which is what I used to be able to put together as I paged through the catalog. I can't put my finger on what the difference between catalog/website is for me (other than that the website obviously features many more items), but I'm always much more inspired by the new roll outs after visiting the website versus perusing the catalog.

  20. Did you all get the J. Crew Gift catalog? What do you think of the cover styling? Those BIG RED nerd glasses are dumb.

  21. I laughed out loud at this:

    "There are certain steadfast rules with me: It’s either an eye or a lip. Never both. Ever,” says Spannaus.

    Yes, that's Gayle's rule. Also, every single fashion magazine, makeup artist, stylist, makeover show host and "beauty expert" in the entire world. Enlightening stuff.

  22. Jcrew used to be totally unique. There was an intangible something different about them, even though their clothes tended to be preppy, ala LLBean, Lands End and even Brooks Brothers. Somehow they were able to create a completely different and modern vibe. Obviously a large portion of their market started with them and are still customers. As they are now going after a younger demographic, I feel as if they are trying too hard. It's as if they finally got invited to the "cool kids" party and they are going a bit overboard to look like they fit in. I still love their clothes but the quality is sadly lacking. They styling, from the hair, the brigh lip, ridiculous glasses, the vacant stares and the white background with the "trying too hard to be mismatched patterns" matching- it looks too contrived. They are taking themselves too seriously and I think they have become somewhat insulated. I think their designers need to visit all over the country- not just NY and NJ- and see how real, attractive, fashion- forward people wear JCrew on a daily basis. ( hate to tell them but the big glasses moment is so over!!) And they need to bring back a traditional holiday catalog/ style guide- I really miss that the most!

    1. Hear, Hear

      Most retailers are trying to hard.
      Anyone seen Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie or really any retail outlet lately. The advent of fashion blogging seems to have taken something out of fashion. Now it seems as if everyone is trying to be the "boldest" or the most far out in order to get noticed, instead of just looking smart, pulled together or just plain clean!


  23. I was looking forward to this article and giving Gayle a chance, but instead it's solidified something I feel very strongly about: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    I'm looking forward to the day when I can look at the J. Crew catalogs with genuine interest. Every season, it's the same look and I'm tired of it.

    By the way, this is all coming from a teenager… That's when you know you're doing something wrong.

  24. I like the glasses, they're different and let that geeky girl in on the scene. At least they don't look like every clone diva barbie in the fashion magazines.


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