Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Working With Mickey Drexler

"Thanks!" to Sommer who shared the following article from the Business of Fashion (click here to read in its entirety).
At Work With Mickey Drexler: Millard “Mickey” Drexler mixes great instinct and good data to bring that special something to J.Crew.
By Imran Amed and Lauren Sherman
April 30, 2014

Mickey Drexler’s office is like a boardroom. Or better yet: a gigantic cubicle, barely portioned off from a cluster of administrators. His desk is a massive conference table with just a handful of papers stacked next to a phone. Whiteboards occupy two corners of the room. One displays a list of ideas relating to Wallace & Barnes (a heritage collection that’s part of J.Crew’s men’s offering) and includes phrases like, “where is the puck going?” and “sweats.” The other contains a more random collection of thoughts, including a quote from writer Glenn O’Brien that reads, “Anything that fights conformity is good.” The only indication that we are in someone’s office is the array of family photos lined up on low-to-the-ground wooden shelving.

...What Drexler does do is keep his finger on the pulse, calling his top employees in and out of his office any time he has a bright idea or a big concern. Call it micro-managing, sure, but it’s more like constant questioning. “The fact of the matter is, he’s a meddler,” says J.Crew’s president and executive creative director Jenna Lyons. “But one of the benefits of working for someone who has been so successful is that he doesn’t have anything to prove. He’s not fearful of anything but not being happy and enjoying what he does.”

...In Drexler’s world, iPods are skirts — and lately, he’s been seeing a lot of them. “I walked into the photo studio and three out of four women there were wearing skirts. And I said, ‘Wow, what’s with the skirts?’ And, then, they told me where they were from and none of them were from J.Crew, which didn’t make me happy, because they were otherwise wearing mostly J.Crew stuff.” After this revelation, Drexler hit up his sales team for data on the company’s skirt business. Turns out, it’s doing “amazing,” he says. So why weren’t those J.Crew employees wearing J.Crew skirts? His instinct was to bring in the marketing team. “I would like J.Crew to have the authority to communicate, to say, ‘It’s about skirts or it’s about sweats,’” he says. “Whatever the category is, I’d like us to communicate emotionally to consumers.” Unsurprisingly, Drexler has hired away several magazine editors, marketers and salespeople from publications including Vogue, Glamour and GQ. The circulation for the company’s Style Guide (formerly known as the, uh, catalogue) is undisclosed, but the company says it’s comparable to that of America’s largest fashion magazines (InStyle’s 2013 circulation was 1.7 million, while Vogue’s was 1.2 million).

If something doesn’t sell well — and with the number of different products J.Crew has on the sales floor at any given time, it happens — Drexler wants to figure out exactly why, and how he can change things to make it a winner. He’s also open to doing smaller runs on more rarefied pieces. Dropped samples—prototypes that are never produced — are inevitable at every level of fashion.

But Lyons says it’s not as rampant at J.Crew as it once was. “Listen, we overdevelop and we will never have room for everything, that’s just the way it goes,” she explains. “However, one of the things I think that is unique about today is, we’ll go through [products] with Mickey and say, ‘Oh there’s this selvedge wide-cuff jean, but it’s $300. We could take off the hand-seams and the sanding [to get the price down],’ and Mickey will come in and say, ‘No, no, let’s just leave it the way it is, it’s beautiful. Let’s just put it in fewer stores and charge what it should be.’” J.Crew’s limited-edition runs result in sellout items every season. They may not do as much for the company’s bottom line as its classic cashmere sweaters or Matchstick jeans, but they are an important part of the product offering that the brand has become known for.

...“I wish I had a boss like me in my early years,” Drexler says with frank delivery. “I’m not self-congratulatory. But I mean someone who had a point of view, a vision, and passionately believed in what they were doing and the direction the business should have.”...

Per usual, here are my random thoughts:

(1) Funny he should mention skirts and no one in the J.Crew office wearing them. This is an area I feel like J.Crew has dropped the ball on for the past few years (not enough a-line, knee-length, or pretty-print skirts). I find it even funnier that despite no one in the office wearing J.Crew skirts, the skirt category is doing "amazing". Really?! Really? I am guessing it is related to a specific type of skirt: pencil. J.Crew is lucky they make beautiful pencil skirts.

(2) I love that J.Crew is still calling the catalog a style guide. Let's just call it a catalog because it is a catalog.

(3) If Drexler wants to figure out why things don't sell out, let him look no further than the comments on this blog! Unfortunately, the thinking that "smaller runs on more rarefied pieces" is not going to solve the problem. If anything, it's going to just exasperate the issue. Mickey should take a look at how many Collection pieces (which are produced in small runs) are sitting in the sale section. If J.Crew really wants to solve the problem, then start with quality, and then opening price points. Then take a good look at the item you are selling and when you are selling them. Where are the beautiful prints for Summer? Remember the madras Summer jackets? In fact, outside of neon green and yellow, where is the color at J.Crew for Summer?

(4) The story about the $300 selvedge jean/ matchstick jeans illustrates perfectly my concern about J.Crew. J.Crew would rather focus on the expensive selvedge jean, an item no one knows them for and that they *might* break even on, over the classic items that customers actually want and make the company money. Sigh.

Re-reading my notes, it sounds like I am down on J.Crew. I am really not. Still love the brand. Really. :)

What are your thoughts on the article ? Do you think J.Crew will continue to perform well under Mickey Drexler? Any points caught your interest? :)


  1. I agree with absolutely everything you said, Alexis. I still love the brand, but I miss so much what drove me to it in the first place: "classic with a twist" (not trends), real, natural, quality fabrics (not polyester), and color plus basics. I haven't given up, but I do a lot of sighing with frustration every time there are new updates.

  2. Well said, Alexis! I wish he would hire design, production and operations people instead of "magazine editors, marketers and salespeople" from publications. Clearly they also have brilliant publicists. There's enough glossy surface and way too little substance.

  3. Key phrase here: "Listen, we overdevelop". No kidding!? But when he goes on to say "we will never have room for everything", I beg to differ. They seem to have room for everything - way way way too much. I'm amazed that there are "prototypes that are never produced". Seems like the endless number of boxy short sleeve Collection sweaters should never have made it to production.

    Agreed with Alexis' points too.

  4. Totally agree Alexis! The skirt comments made me smile. Their pencil skirts are beautiful but do not suit my figure. Every time they've had a cinched waist, patterned skirt I buy it immediately. They are few and far between. A-line would be good too, and those 17" minis...I'm not that demographic anymore. More selection!!... All that said, 75% of my wardrobe is JCrew ;-)

  5. Word, Alexis! I will NEVER buy matchsticks again because both of my pair ripped at the knees in less than a year. And toothpicks do nothing for me.

    Mickey, if you read this, I want to tell you: Get over yourself!

    Not to be a total negative nelly: I do love love LOVE my red pleated flare dress. I will wear the bejesus out of that one. And I do love my fab black beach hat. But these are the only two items I have purchased since February. And I am a complete and total J. Crew whore.

  6. LOL! Reading all the comments reminds me of the J.Crew / "bad boyfriend" comparison. We love them so much, but some of the things they say/do makes us question them. ;)

    Although I love my sales, seeing how many items are just not moving no matter the price, is worrisome. Seriously, I hope they get back to what makes them so great.

  7. Alexis, your comments don't sound like you're down on J. Crew, they sound like you're someone who loves the brand, wants it to succeed, but like most of us, you're exasperated at why they're not listening to their core audience (US!) instead of making less of the same stuff that's not selling! J. Crew doesn't have to spend a penny on R&D if they're reading this blog. I haven't bought much of anything at J. Crew in MONTHS because they're not making clothes for me. They're not making well-made classics and they're certainly not making many well-made, beautifully designed pieces. Even the stuff I've liked and have wanted to buy has just been too expensive for the quality and I'm too busy and work too hard for my money to engage in sale watch. Sigh. Hopefully they'll get it together but until then, I'll be saving my money.

    1. I used to agree with this, but now I know that we are not JC's core customers, but more of a vocal (and probably annoying to them) minority. They're in the business of making money and decided long ago that it would be more profitable to them to follow the trends and cut costs however possible. It must be working for them on some level because if it wasn't, I think that they'd be giving people the boot and bringing in some new talent. Instead, they decided to focus on putting their $ into PR, Copywriter from Space, 'collaborations' and c/o's with fashion bloggers while Somsack is killing it at Madewell and Marissa is going to BR. I'm very interested to see how it all plays out, but after complaining about their decline for the past 6 years here and seeing no changes, I'm not hopeful for any kind of grand revelation on JC's part.

    2. Agreed with Silver Lining above and with Ruffles (from yesterday). We are definitely not the core customers anymore.

    3. NoMoneyFun: Thanks for your comment! I think you are right that J.Crew should pay more attention to what their customers want.

      Silver Lining & Cousy: I think you are right. We are not the core customers that J.Crew wants shopping at their regular stores. I think they are pushing us, their old devotees, towards Factory. However, they are not really capturing the customers they do want either. They are in an interesting spot. The fashion forwardness worked for awhile, but now its not. So do they continue down that road or try to go back to what they do best: classics with a fashion forward twist.

  8. I just love that Jenna called him a meddler. LOL He didn't get where he is today without being one.

    I think working with someone like Mickey would be fun. Annoying, sometimes, but fun.

  9. Well said Wellfedfred.

    Here is how Micky could make more money for Leonard Green and TPG:
    1. Consistent sizing -- I have bought cafe capris in three sizes in the past 12 months. I wear them all and they all fit the same. If they are going to grow as an online retailer they have to get this right. That's just one example. We have many.

    2. Produce consistent quality products - This is one of the most confounding things to me. I've purchased beautiful quality silk blouses from J Crew and crap silk blouses in the same season. You would not think they came from the same retailer. They should sell substandard quality products under a different brand name. Don't call it J Crew anything. It is diluting the brand. Alternatively sell the crap under the J Crew name and sell the quality under a brand that leverages Jenna Lyons. Don't sell them in the same place.
    3. Frankly, I think they should work harder to really nail the Collection items, produce more limited quantities and reduce the discounts on them.
    4. Stick to the knitting. J Crew is trying to do too much. They need to be a bit more strategic and figure out how to produce consistent returns for their shareholders.

  10. I wore an older navy blue linen blazer the other day, lined in a funky cotton polka dot with a wide kelly green grosgrain ribbon. Lovely to wear, to look at. Where is that?

  11. I get they're trying to become aspirational through the Collection stuff. That's fine if they want a department within the company that is experimental and fashion-forward. My wardrobe is a mix of small independent designers with small seasonal runs and JCrew. That's because those small designers have something to say that is unique to their brand. JCrew's Collection pieces look like the mainline stuff with extra stuff added or it's the same style but in a luxe fabric. There's been so many times when I look at a Collection item in the store and I want to remove like 2-3 design elements or embellishments. It wasn't a matter of the item costing too much because of those extras, but that from a design level it looked better simpler. So I feel like they're in an awkward place with Collection: they're trying to push the envelope but they're not doing enough, so neither mainstream America wants it nor the fashion-forward crowd.

    I absolutely agree that we've become the core customer for Factory. Which I hate because I already hate the low quality of mainline, and Factory is worse in terms of fabric choices and color selection. I miss the old JCrew that mixed classic design with quirky colors and patterns. Bring back the Versailles print! The library print! Give us something we have to wear for work or lifestyle choice but give it to us in a thoughtful way!

  12. I just saw that Marissa Webb is now the EVP/Creative Director for Banana Republic/Gap. That should be interesting. She was a huge loss to J.Crew a few years ago.


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