The first article is from Forbes (click here to read in its entirety) and its about a particular customer questioning J.Crew's recent styling direction. The following is an excerpt:
...Drexler had gone to some effort to talk with my wife. After emailing a response note in less than 24 hours, he and J. Crew President, Libby Wadle, left a voice mail with cell phone numbers and then took her call when she rang back. In other words, Mickey Drexler went out of his way to do what an unfortunately small number of CEOs practice – he went the extra mile to get direct customer feedbackThe second article is from Racked (click here to read in its entirety) and it picks up on the Forbes article. The following is another excerpt:
...The email from my wife that set this in motion was clearly well-intentioned but had a stinging critique of the company’s fall/holiday collection that she had seen in a preview sent to certain customers. She had written the kind of email you assume goes into a black box and will never be read by an actual decision maker. Perhaps that was why my wife let fly some of the pointed candor usually reserved just for me. “I am so disheartened and disappointed that you are leaving your core values and styling and abandoning your loyal customers,” she wrote. “I would have thought you had learned your lesson at the Gap!! Why mess with these iconic brands and change them into something they’re not?” Ouch.
...J. Crew’s leadership team proceeded to ask what my wife liked and didn’t like about the company’s styling, as well as what was missing in her opinion. They listened intently and respectfully while politely noting that the preview photos my wife had seen had been taken from a fashion show so gave a different brand impression than regular customers may have anticipated. Drexler also stood his ground on the need to continue evolving the company’s style as competitors attempt to copy its success. He went on to say, however, that in the company’s desire to embrace change, the team also shared the view that some of the styling had perhaps strayed too far from the classics and brand messaging for which J. Crew had become known. Drexler’s views had been shaped, in part, by his recent trip to stores with Wadle so he could hear firsthand from customers and frontline sales associates. “We are on it for sure,” he later emailed my wife. “I hope you see a difference this fall.”
...Drexler not only pays attention to what customers are saying but also unabashedly acts on it, never apologizing for getting involved in the minutia of business operations. He will be the first to say that attention to detail is crucial for creating a product and brand experience that makes customers care enough to write those nasty letters in the first place. “Ask your customers if they’d like you to micromanage,” he once said in response to those who criticize his hands-on style. Yes, Mickey, we like it.
...Two things that happen next are of interest. First, Drexler actually called DeRose's wife to hear directly from her what she liked and didn't like about the line (which, while unconventional, isn't so surprising. Drexler is an unapologetic micro-manager of legendary status). And second, he admitted J.Crew may be going too far in some of their styling. Which is a bit of a surprise.I think it is great that Mickey reached out to a customer, Mrs. DeRose, who expressed some dissatisfaction. It speaks volumes about the company who really does want to take care of their clients. Kuddos to J.Crew!
Mrs. DeRose's perspective is not one we come across too frequently in world of fashion journalism. The fashion media applauds the excitement Jenna Lyons has injected into the brand with her distinctive preppy-chic point of view, and Racked readers, at least, tend to agree with the media. J.Crew's New York Fashion Week shows are by far the most popular shows of each runway season on Racked.
But Mrs. DeRose has an interesting point. If, say, you're a stay-at-home mom with a couple of teenagers to look after (and, for sake of argument, you don't happen to be Michelle Obama), print mixing and pops of color may not be your thing. J.Crew used to have something to offer that customer. Do they still? Judging from the brand's current homepage, which pictures a grid of several windblown models in styles like peter pan collars, pajama tops, printed pants, and office-ready dress shorts, maybe not. ...
As for the content of the articles... DeRose speaks for many of us who think some of the styling of J.Crew can be too "aspirational" for its core customer at times. It is a topic that has long been discussed on this blog. Back in 2008/2009- we started seeing crazy layering (like 4-5 visible tops with a pair of shorts- um, okay) to funky pattern matching as of late (which Jenna Lyons loves to wear and can pull off, but not so much the rest of us). How many of us talked about tagging most of the pages in J.Crew's past catalogs (to purchase and wear entire outfits), only to see a few tags present in the current years? While at it, how many of us talk about a visible decrease in quality with an equally visible increase in price? (It be nice to machine wash $40 tee shirts without wondering if holes along the seams will appear.)
It's great that J.Crew is doing so well and repositioning themselves in the upper echelons of the fashion industry. Thanks to those moves, J.Crew is still offering pieces that I have to own and causing their competitors to copy them. However, the fact remains that J.Crew is not a premier luxury fashion brand (a la Stella McCartney, DVF, etc.) So it would be smart for J.Crew to still keep one foot in the classic clothing realm while one foot is in the fashion forward realm to explore the latest trends. (In other words, J.Crew don't get rid of what you do best like the Pixie Pants and the button down shirts! And please J.Crew, don't reduce quality, especially if you are increasing the base price!)
I also do think J.Crew is "coming back home". They are trying to offer pieces for their existing clients- pieces that they have been known for. For example, we have seen several prints (like the Regatta) from J.Crew of y'ore appear in the latest roll outs. Moreover, they have brought back a lot of the hacking jacket details this year and last year (like the ornate enamel buttons) that were missing since 2009. So for that, I give them credit (and I thank them!) They are listening.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with J.Crew's current direction? Do you hope for changes? If so, what kind?