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? :)