Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shoppers Turning On J.Crew's Jenna Lyons

"Thanks!" to Susan (in this post), as well as Stapelia (in this post), who shared the following article from the New York Post (click here to read in its entirety):
J.Crew is floundering — and shoppers blame Jenna Lyons
By Sarah Horne
April 13, 2015

Last month, Oregon-based illustrator Tricia Louvar, 40, took to website The Hairpin with a comic titled “An Open Letter to Jenna Lyons,” aimed at the famously quirky creative director of J.Crew.

“You are pretty dope,” it began. “If only I, an ordinary mother on a modest income, could afford to wear a $400 cashmere skirt, silk barely-there blouse and belt to a one-time business-casual event.”

Louvar then tallied the cost of an “everyday” outfit at the retailer, finding that it came to $596, the equivalent of 298 school lunches.

“I was a fan of J.Crew for over 20 years,” Louvar tells The Post. “But as I look at the catalogs now, I just don’t get it. Back when I was in college, it represented a classic look that was seamless.”

Now, says Louvar, the brand embodies Lyons’ creative-cool lifestyle. “I love her style,” she explains. “But can I relate to it?”

She is not the only one wondering what the heck went askew at the brand. In 2014 sales at J.Crew declined, and the company’s CEO Mickey Drexler admitted it had been a “tough year.”

In December, Page Six reported, “after a dismal earnings report that saw the company go from a net income of $35.4 million to a reported loss of $607.8 million in just a year . . . style icon Lyons is being ordered by her bosses to focus more on the business and less on her own brand.”

Lyons, who regularly hits the red carpet in silk pajama pants or a feather-trimmed maxi skirt, was made creative director in 2008 and transformed what had been a line of unassuming basics into a fashion force, presenting the label at New York Fashion Week and launching J.Crew Collection, a capsule line with offerings like $498 pink lace trousers.

She became a darling of street-style blogs while gossip sites combed over her personal life. Last year, Lyons capped off her icon status with a cameo on HBO’s Brooklyn-set “Girls.”

Some backlash was inevitable, says New Yorker Lauren Sherman, 32, the editor-at-large for fashionista.com. “It’s easy to knock someone down when they’re at the top of their game,” she says.

Lyons, who regularly hits the red carpet in silk pajama pants or a feather-trimmed maxi skirt, was made creative director in 2008 and transformed what had been a line of unassuming basics into a fashion force, presenting the label at New York Fashion Week and launching J.Crew Collection, a capsule line with offerings like $498 pink lace trousers.

She became a darling of street-style blogs while gossip sites combed over her personal life. Last year, Lyons capped off her icon status with a cameo on HBO’s Brooklyn-set “Girls.”

Some backlash was inevitable, says New Yorker Lauren Sherman, 32, the editor-at-large for fashionista.com. “It’s easy to knock someone down when they’re at the top of their game,” she says.

Abra Belke, 32, who blogs under the pseudonym Belle at DC-based fashion blog Capitol Hill Style, feels disappointed by a label she used to be loyal to and puzzled by what she sees as Lyons’ larger-than-life imprint on the retail giant.

“When Jenna started, people were excited because it was different,” says Belke. “But in the last three or four years, it got ridiculous. I think the brand is more and more out of touch . . . it seems to be going through an identity crisis.”

The catalogs, Belke feels, are overstyled, with models pairing suits with sneakers and out-there accessories.

“I think they’re designing for a very small subset of people who work and live in very specialized industries in New York. My boss still wears flesh-toned hose with her skirt suit. I can’t show up in a sequin pencil skirt.”

It perhaps comes as no surprise that sales at Madewell, J.Crew’s more accessible sister brand, are increasing while J.Crew stumbles. On a March call to address the company’s latest earnings reports, Drexler said he had heard his customers loud and clear.

His plans to turn the troubling numbers around include opening 20 more Madewell stores this year and reworking the fashion strategy at J.Crew, focusing on the classics.

A J.Crew spokeswoman declined to comment, but according to one J.Crew insider, you can bet that the design team is listening to calls for change.

“Jenna is very, very involved at the company,” says the source. “She touches everything.”

If getting back to their roots is part of the plan, it seems to be working over at Madewell, where the design DNA is more low-key.

Belke, the DC blogger, says that if J.Crew gets back to basics, she’d be glad to return. “As long as it doesn’t have neon feathers on it, and it’s something I can wear for three or four years, I’m in.”
First and foremost, I think there is blame to be shared at J.Crew. I do feel bad that Jenna Lyons is getting the bulk of it, because I honestly believe Mickey Drexler is at fault here too.

But moving onward, I think the concerns raised by the loyal customers in the article are ones made time and time again here on the blog for quite some time. (How many of us complained about weird fit, poly material, dry clean only goods, sub-par quality, quality going downhill, discontinuing best sellers, etc.?)

I know that there are several JCAs who love what J.Crew is currently doing and love the current styling. They don't long for the preppy days and are more "on fashion point". However, I never understood why J.Crew could not offer both types of styles. Keep the classics, basics with a twist, alongside the trendier pieces. Or keep the fashion forward pieces with the high price tags to the Collection line, instead of infiltrating the regular selection. (Seeing a $200+ tee in the regular section of J.Crew is a bit odd, no?)

I still love my J.Crew and find pieces to purchase every week. But
we all know the quality, style and fit have changed over the years. Most of us, myself included, have been returning a lot more because pieces are not working out.

I understand that J.Crew has finally figured it out (through their comments to the press), however the real proof will be in the upcoming collections. I sincerely hope they bring back the elements that made them so successful (classics with a twist) and not tamper with the elements they do so well (like their Tippi Cardigans).


What are your thoughts on the article? Do you think J.Crew can turn things around? If so, please share! :)

35 comments:

  1. Since my battery died midway through my comment earlier today, I will start again here and pick up with my thoughts from the previous post, Like many of the other comments I too would like to thank Alexis for maintaining the blog so graciously, JCA is the very first blog I found and through it I have been introduced to the worlds of many other bloggers who generously share parts of their lives and their spots in the world. It is really a wonderful community that I value. I even had the most wonderful opportunity to meet a couple in NYC a month ago - simply a joy! So thank you again Alexis and all of the other faithful JCAs. Now to the current situation with J Crew, For me I have to say that the thrill is gone. There is still the occasional blouse, shoe or item that I must have but the list has grown so much shorter. I used to want almost everything I saw in the catalog, Now I barely skim it. The messy hair, crazy styling, lack of smiles all made it unappealing.i used to love looking through the sale section online but now with usually 2000 womens items it is too exhausting, time consuming and depressing. I do believe that much of that fault does fall to Jenna since i believe she exerts control over almost every aspect. What seems to have gotten lost is that J Crew is a mass apparel store. What works for Jenna"s job, lifestyle and body type is not what the masses want or can wear.I believe she is very talented but the focus of the company needs to be redirected away from Jenna"s personal style, I do believe that this decline in business
    is not just a J Crew phenomenon. I don"t read the business articles but I do know as I walk around the mall or check my emails there is always 40% off at BR, Ann Taylor, Gap and Talbots. There seems to be an over-saturation issue with too much inventory, competition and too few new ideas. i certainly don't have the answers but I am truly hoping that especially J Crew can really turn it around and I can resume my love affair.

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  2. Someone may have already posted Jezebel's take on the issue but there are some really great reader comments if you haven't read it yet - http://jezebel.com/frustrated-customers-blame-jenna-lyons-for-j-crews-ins-1697721731 I especially liked the comment about sizing, and how once they knew their size they could pretty much comfortably buy what they needed. Now sizing and fit is so varied that it makes it hard to shop.

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    1. Yes, I loved that I knew my size and could comfortably order sight unseen off of the website - even final sale! And I recently noticed that they now have size 000. Something is clearly wrong with their sizing if they need have 000.

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  3. I want to echo Teacups - I so appreciate this blog! The changes at jcrew have been dizzying for me. I still buy things there for sure and when they do something well, they do it really well, but the rest can be quite scary. I think Teavups is right on over- saturation and too much inventory; I almost never buy at full price now, due to both quality issues and the knowledge that whatever it is will go on sale soon enough. In the past, I would have snapped up that silk dress in fear of losing it forever. It makes me sad, but I am hopeful they will finally listen with these latest losses!

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  4. I'm also with Teacups, I want to resume my love affair! Over the past few months I have purchased Collection dresses, perfect fit tees, a toggle coat (classic JCrew, yay) and one amazing necklace... but of course I had to wait for the Collection dresses to be marked down 75% (popbacks) because they were initially 9 million dollars... these are dresses that at one time would have been regular collection at JCrew. So I wonder how the Collection aspect has led to this demise... the focus is there, it's too expensive (certainly initially) and the regular, core, collection is ignored.
    The sizing issue is really bad for online sales!
    And Alexis I totally agree, a $200 tee in the regular collection is ridiculous, especially with the reputation JCrew has had recently for tees that develop holes within a couple of washes.
    I really enjoyed that article, and lol neon feathers...
    I'm vey happy we can continue to discuss the progress (or lack thereof) here on the fabulous JCA blog... I do think your blog has kept up interest in the brand Alexis, thank you!

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  5. I think that Jenna’s “women want candy” statement from five years ago was translated into the cheapest quality that JC could still put their name on, and that spread to all areas of the women’s line. I understand her point - it’s fun to have a great accessory or trendy piece - but when I find a great fitting pair of jeans, a pencil skirt that feels like it was made for me, or an amazing trench that makes me feel like a millions bucks, I’d like to be able to enjoy those pieces more than once before they’re pilling, split at the seams, or stabbing me in the shoulders.

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    1. Oh my gosh it was 5 years ago??? Wow time flies. I remember that comment like it was last season!!

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  6. I'll add my appreciation of Alexis and this wonderful community of JCAs that she has kept interested and together. Hasn't Alexis done more for the brand in recent years than JCrew itself?

    Jenna deserves some criticism to be sure, but it seems she is being scapegoated for the systemic failure of the entire management, design, marketing, styling, and retailing teams. And a notoriously bloodthirsty investor group.

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  7. I agree that it isn't fair to place all the blame on Jenna.

    I also think that DL thinks they *have* been keeping the classics alongside the trends, and I think that's the disconnect. What they see as the classics now are not what I think of as their classics. They keep introducing new styles of pants, and they all fit strangely on me. I wish they'd have kept a few classic styles while introducing new/trendy pants.

    I think they see their cashmere as a big part of their classics, but the price points are out of reach for a lot of their customers (and the cashmere is not sold in my store!). A consumer on a budget might buy a Tippi sweater instead of a cashmere sweater as the classic. Fortunately they have not ditched the Tippi.

    I haven't seen a Jackie cardigan in ages - do they still sell them? That was their bread-and-butter.

    I don't think they need a major redirection at the company. What they need is to work out the balance between fun/new and classic. I have a place for both in my closet. And they could tone down the crazy a bit ;)

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  8. Also want to add that J. Crew is treating their Toothpick jeans as a classic, and they just aren't. They ditched the (retail) Matchsticks, which were an easier style to wear but were still a modern silhouette.

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    1. Agreed! I want my matchsticks back. I want Jackie cardigans in the store where I can decide on colors in person. I want classic pants that I can mix up with trendier pieces. I have money to spend and no place to spend it. It's not just J Crew. The offerings at every store I've been in this past month have been dismal. Good thing I have lots and lots of clothes at home!

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    2. I didn't realize they'd phased out the matchsticks in retail, but you're right! I haven't seen them in a while and they were the only jeans they made I really loved the fit of :(

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  9. I like the article and think it makes fair points, as does Alexis in regards to Mickey Drexler.

    But I was surprised they called J. Crew's offerings pre-Jenna "unassuming basics." Really? Unassuming basics like the Bella jacket or coat, the Versailles Dress, or any of the shoes at this blog post from way back in 2005? Those don't seem so unassuming. In fact, I find I buy less from J. Crew because many of their pieces nowadays are rather nondescript. I have enough tees and sweaters in all the shades of the rainbow. It is only when I have to replace items that I repurchase. (I recently sold a mint green v neck sweater as its style didn't work for me and replaced it with a mint green Tippi that does work better.)

    I don't know, maybe I am wrong, but the J. Crew of now is way more unassuming and boring to me than of the pre-Jenna years. (Unless we are speaking specifically of her bedazzle everything with sequins and glitter phase of 2009-2010.)

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    1. Jenna is just a scapegoat. She is not the problem.

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    2. Agreed Dina. While we all know that JC has gotten a little out of hand with the "neon feathers" element, I am just as concerned with the drab, lowest-common-denominator factor. Truly, that mixed houndstooth dress of this past season was the ugliest, cheap-looking, least fashionable nightmare that I have ever seen from J Crew. "Boring" doesn't even cover it. And Jenna wouldn't be caught dead in it.

      J Crew's lovely prints and beautiful colors have never been "unassuming" IMO.

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    3. A bright spot (literally) from this season: that yacht blue leather skirt. What a beauty, and it is selling well. I've been trying to justify paying $600 for it on promo, and am almost there :).

      Classic but in no way unassuming. That's the way to do Collection!

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    4. I am assuming @unknown that you are responding to this blog post overall and not my comment. Just in case, I do not blame Jenna fully for this turn. She actually did do things that were novel and helped elevate the brand. And I may poke fun at the bedazzle period, but some of my favorite J. Crew pieces are from that time! There is a lot of "too big for their britches" going on over at J. Crew and I definitely don't think its Jenna suffering from that.

      @cousy that mixed houndstooth, I remember that. woof. Very blah. It could be spruced up nicely with accessories, but how often was it passed over for not having any sort of pop at their site?

      The yacht blue is beautiful. :) I see a bit of something peeking out from the model's skirt at the bottom right (not the front pleats), and I wonder if that is just the other bits of the skirt or if it is the lining. I would hope that they fixed that in the ones they send out to customers. I am concerned only because the hem seems to have been photoshopped a bit in the side and back views.

      I feel like I should be positive about something--I do really like the Turner pant. They are in no way something that would have been around in old school J. Crew days but dang they fit me so well and feel so good on...so there's a win for me personally from the current era of J. Crew.

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  10. I'll be 60 tomorrow. I've been a regular J. Crew shopper since the store went into business. Here's my two cents:
    In the beginning, I found J. Crew to be the one store that "spoke" to my taste. Classic with just the ever-subtle edge without being too "preppy" or too "frumpy". The cuts of the clothing were great. The pricing was wonderful. The selections--just what I loved. In fact, I remember the days of one of the first B & M Crew shops--down at the South Street Seaport. That entire downtown area of NYC was changing and I was lucky to be working in that area.
    Over the years Crew has had season of better clothing than others--but overall, I could always find something there.
    Slowly, J. Crew started evolving into something it is not. J. Crew is not an Hermes boutique nor is J. Crew Courreges. J. Crew is a higher-end chain store. Period.
    In addition, it is also NOT the J. Lyons shop. We have an identity crisis.
    Quite frankly, I'm tired of the oversized, shapeless, cropped sweaters and shirts. For some crazy reason, I don't find a "pant" that has a hemline as wide as my hips attractive either. The messy hair in the catalogues--well, it's fine for the walk of shame or a day when the weather stinks and you just want to loll around in your pj's, binge-watching TV. The messy hair isn't attractive at a wedding or in the office.

    Just WHO is Crew trying to appeal to these days? I think ageism has also crept into the Crew establishment. Yes. I know that the catalogues will have the obligatory pic of the artsy gray-haired woman--but you know what? Not all older women have white or gray hair. That being said, I wish J. Crew would go back to it's roots (pun intended?) and reassess.

    Go back to more classic cuts. Bring shape back into the clothing. Go back to more intense colors. Take the damn jewels off of sweatshirts. Better yet, leave the sweatshirt business to sporting goods stores.

    In all honesty--it's time to give Lyons the heave-ho.

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    1. Happy Birthday and Amen Sister! I am of the older group as well and I don't have gray hair either.

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    3. by alienating "older" shoppers, J.Crew is distancing itself from women who know the difference between good quality clothing - remember linings? remember silk you couldn't see through? in fact, remember silk? remember carefully placed buttonholes? remember seam allowances and well-finished seams? - and schlock , which for non-NewYorkers is a not terribly polite word for garbage.

      As I look forward to my "golden" years, I am terrified by the thought of floating poly caftans and calf-length vests over elastic-waist skirts. Please, J.Crew, be there for me. But be J.Crew for me.

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    4. Doodle Daschund. Thank you for the birthday wishes! I'm glad we are in the same boat there with the hair thing!
      wellfedfred. I had to laugh at your envisioning yourself in poly caftans, calf-length vests and elastic-waist skirts. Not all women in their golden years hoof it to Chico's for their wardrobe-LOL! But seriously, I know where you are coming from! J. Crew needs a complete corporate and style makeover. Sizing needs to go back to the consistency it once was. Clothing needs to be more fitted and tailored. Dresses need to be less "sacky", a tad longer, just long enough that my origin of the world does not peek through whenever I bend over. They need "classic" and "timeless" clothing. The kind of clothing that, some day, a granddaughter can come to my home, look into my closet, take out a few J. Crew classic items and say "Grandma, you have such great taste. Can I wear this"? Yeah. THAT'S what I'm talkin' bout baby!

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    5. I second that Catherine Urbanski and LOL!!
      Happy Birthday!

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  11. So much is said here I can agree with - Catherine Urbanski, I remember going to that store....it was the first retail store of JC I'd been to and my heart soared at the site of it all - I wanted everything! I'm 41 and more picky about what I buy now, but it's sad that now I go in the store and don't see anything I want. I'm particularly ticked that the last two cashmere long sleeve tees I ordered were rougher and thinner than the ones I bought less than a year ago! I miss the PRETTY things -lulu bows, patent Juliet heels....classic ballets. Also, remember when a pretty pattern was special? It doesn't need to be on matching tops, pants AND shoes. And not everything needs an exposed zipper!

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  12. I like this blog a lot and rely on it with regard to reviews of items. You all provide a great resource for people like me who do not have a B&M store near me.

    I like some of the trendy things as well as the classic basics. Part of the problem for me is that several of the current fashion trends are just not my style (example: wide sweaters with narrow arms). Most disturbing is the decline in quality because that was always what J Crew was known for. You shouldn't have to worry about your Campbell Capris ripping out in the rear end when you are at work. Ugh.

    I do think they should refocus on the regular items, not the Collection items. While those are often times really great, a lot of customers aren't going to pay those prices - if they were, they'd buy at designer fashion houses. The regular staples should be better quality like they were in the past. I haven't bought cashmere in several years, but I'm leery of doing so because the current reviews are saying the quality is bad.

    At least they got Customer Reviews going - finally! Now, if they improve the quality of the garments, they won't have so many returns.

    I'd like to see Jenna move on. I'm just not at all impressed with her, or the work she's done at J Crew.

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  13. Yes, yes, yes!

    Thanks for sharing this article, because I have been feeling alienated by J.Crew for years now. It used to be about 75% of my wardrobe, and I would eagerly anticipate every new catalog.

    I don't think that I have bought anything from J.Crew in a few years now. I still sit down with the catalog, but I don't usually make it to the end and I definitely laugh out loud at some of the styling and unflattering shapes.

    Now I purchase more things from Boden, but I do have to return a lot of what I buy because of fit issues. I also think that Lands' End is on the cusp of snapping up a lot of disgruntled J.Crew customers, but they need to modernize more. (They still have a lot of frump issues, and I understand that they don't want to lose their aging fan base.)

    Anyway, just rambling on to some folks who might actually care! :)

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  14. I am not liking anything, anywhere these days. I strolled into BR to see their new arrivals and walked out with a candle on sale ($19.99) got 40% off, additional 10% cardholder discount and an umbrella!!! Everlane however, I think is somewhat on the right track. I am disappointed with some of their latest offerings, large armholes and over sized fit. But I got an email from them asking me to review a new line they were planning on selling. They were looking for feedback on style, fit, colors. I was very honest, I like their concept small selection and price justification but again for me they also have been missing the mark.

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  15. I ditto everyone who says they're really not feeling anything, anywhere - I am definitely having that issue, which my pocketbook (and husband!) probably love.

    As far as J.Crew goes, I have faith they will turn this ship around, but I'm skeptical. I might honestly cry if I see another rollout with drapey pants and boxy, shapeless tops. What's so disappointing is that I always thought J.Crew was above the latest trends...the clothing was modern and cool without trying too hard. There was an "I'm too cool to be cool" attitude and it was timeless. I remember being in college and literally thinking "would a J.Crew model wear this outfit?" before styling myself. I wanted to look like the models in the catalogs - I would seriously spend money I did not have to buy full outfits (!!!) Then the catalogs became Style Guides, and vapid stares, back-brushed eyebrows and snarly hair distracted us from the garish jewelry, drab colors and impractical styling of the clothing. (Speaking of impractical, if you need a good laugh, just read the description on those metallic linen crossover shorts - item C2267...what office are they talking about?!)

    I do think that it's time for Jenna to move on. I don't think she's the right fit for J.Crew anymore. I think she is wildly talented and I really do love her personal style; I just don't want to dress like her. Not only does it not fit my lifestyle, but it's not who I am as a woman.

    I think the fact that so many of us are such loyal supporters and won't give up on the brand we love is a good sign for J.Crew. No, we're not hipsters. We don't consume kale smoothies for meals. We can't wear sleeveless suits or metallic linen skorts to work. We do, however want quality, flattering, well-made classics that are modern and fresh. We want colors (remember the insanely amazing color pairings? My mind would be blown sometimes). We want to be well styled and cool without being overly trendy. We (and our money) are here for the taking...just give us what we are desperately craving.

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  16. I fell in love with J. Crew in the fall of 2004. I still have the catalogs. Jenna Lyons was there in 2004, she and Mickey were quite tight. She was promoted years later. I loved the styles then. I wrote to Mickey about my obsession and he wrote back. I was beyond flattered. Now, if I saw him in the store I was would want to ask him what happened.

    J. Crew Mens still has great quality, it's Womens that is just terrible. I'm inclined to think a bit of this is, sorry to say, Jenna Lyons. When she was promoted and getting all that heady attention, it seemed to motivate her to try to turn J. Crew into a designer brand. Guess what? Not many designers have longevity.

    We were all entertained when Jenna would dress in some wild combination and when she speaks in interviews, she's unquestionably charming. But I would be curious if there was someone else below Jenna that has been chomping at the bit to get J. Crew back on track. That's how Jenna got Mickey's attention. She was wearing cargo pants with heels, he loved it and asked her what she would keep and what she wouldn't. That was when he first took over and it's sad that I have read that several times.

    Maybe Mickey has so much money now he's losing interest. Maybe Jenna longs to join Vogue. All I know is, mall traffic is not their problem. I went to the mall last weekend. I didn't not even go into J. Crew. I feel sad for the SAs who are trying. I feel like I could personally turn J. Crew around with post-its and a stack of old catalogs. Mickey's early years at J. Crew had adorable clothes with amazing detail like grosgrain trim, jacket linings, ankle straps or jewels on shoes, patterns on cardigans that went over the front so it came together when you buttoned it, knee length A-line summer skirts with boats or fall skirts with library books, it was all so dreamy. You can't even find a chino at J. Crew anymore.

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    1. Well said, Elizabeth. The special details and quality made me love the brand back then, and there are so many similar personal stories here. Why did they lose that? The silk linings, piped trim, beautiful buttons, pick stitched lapels. Is the "fashion forward" consumer they are courting now presumed to not care about quality, because finishing details are independent of style.

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    2. Yes, well said, Elizabeth! I still wear a great cotton cardigan I bought from J Crew back in around 2002 that is so cute with embroidery in the front that looks awesome when it's all buttoned up. I guess I'd better treat it better so it continues to last!

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  17. Elizabeth, SO well said:
    ..."I feel like I could personally turn J. Crew around with post-its and a stack of old catalogs. Mickey's early years at J. Crew had adorable clothes with amazing detail like grosgrain trim, jacket linings, ankle straps or jewels on shoes, patterns on cardigans that went over the front so it came together when you buttoned it, knee length A-line summer skirts with boats or fall skirts with library books, it was all so dreamy." ...
    That's it, the magic, right there! My gosh I do believe you could save JCrew with a stack of old catalogues and some post-its. If the leadership at JCrew has any sense at all they are reading this blog and taking notes.

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    1. I agree Dani. J Crew should be reading this blog - if they knew what was good for them!

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  18. J crew needs to hire Alexis as the style consultant and customer liaison. Immediately. So to turn the ship around.

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Dear J.Crew Aficionadas & Aficionados: Please feel free (and encouraged) to share your thoughts and opinions. :) However, please note that this is still a personal blog. So comments that are considered inappropriate (e.g. obscene, racist, homophobic, personal attacks, rude, and just plain mean) will be removed.

And now back to J.Crew! :)