Thursday, June 11, 2015

Guessing Who Is Taking Over at J.Crew?

"Thanks!" to  many of you who gave us a heads up about J.Crew's most recent management change. The following from NY Mag's The Cut (click here to read in its entirety) sums up their current situation:
Madewell’s Designer Is Taking Over at J.Crew
By Véronique Hyland
June 10, 2015

It sounds like J.Crew is undergoing a bit of a shakeup: After the company reported woeful, possibly sweater-related results last week, some (in corporate parlance) re-shuffling has taken place. According to a release from the company, Somsack Sikhounmuong, formerly head of design at Madewell, will now take over as head of women's design for the J.Crew brand, replacing Tom Mora. Sikhounmuong is a 14-year veteran of Madewell, and has helped contribute to the success of the company, which has seen sales rise by 33 percent in the past year. Will he be able to sprinkle that same fairy dust on J.Crew?

Joyce Lee, who has been working under Sikhounmuong at Madewell, has already been named as his successor there. The release also makes reference to "other strategic and organizational changes ... being made across the Company in areas including store operations, production, sourcing, and merchandising." CEO Mickey Drexler, who has been upfront about what he called the retailer's "lousy year," said in the statement: "We know what needs to be done and while many of these initiatives take time, we have a committed team in place to make it happen." They certainly have their work cut out for them.
Well, I hate to say this but I am happy about the change. Tom Mora was not helping the brand too much in the past few years. #sorrynotsorry

I have been buying more and more from Madewell lately. And here is the amazing part... full price items too!

So here is to hoping that J.Crew is taking the right steps to turn design things around for the Women's line.

What are your thoughts on the management change at J.Crew? Do you think Sikhounmuong is a good replacement for Mora? Please share!

68 comments:

  1. I am not sure how this will go. Although I love Madewell, they are not known for tailored clothes, and one thing J. Crew needs work on is tailoring its clothes. I hope the new guy is great, though!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am optimistic for things to change with women's design with the new leadership. I am sad for some of people that lost their jobs, I am sure they were just following direction if misguided direction from their leadership. Maybe Mickey is losing his retail magic? To pin the demise on a sweater design (Tilly) seems pretty weak to me. It got 4 stars in online reviews, and they are selling 14 colors of the cardigan at full price. I am rooting for J Crew and will still be dressed in 90% J Crew from previous years purchases until hopefully they turn it around.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The New York Times has a more in-depth article here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/11/business/j-crew-flounders-in-fashions-shifting-tides.html?ref=business&_r=0

    I am also not sorry that Tom Mora has been replaced. He really did not have a good idea of how to dress a woman's figure and he did not have a grasp of the core J. Crew demographic. Honestly, I have misgivings about Somsack Sikhounmuong. Madewell's target demographic is significantly younger and more casual than J. Crew. The quality is a bit more consistent with Madewell, but everything I have tried there is too short, too flimsy and/or too casual. Mr. Sikhounmuong may be a good designer, but I am concerned there's too much of a generation gap between his thinking and what the core J. Crew demographic wants.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Louise, I totally agree with you. While I think J. Crew is in need of a shake-up, I hope Mr. Sikhounmuong will remember the core J. Crew audience and bring back some more of the classic pieces. I agree this goes beyond sweater issues - Buzzfeed had a great article yesterday about it as well.

      Delete
    2. I share your misgivings, Louise. I haven't bought a clothing item from Madewell in well over a year. I actually find their clothing to be even more shapeless than JC, and a lot of the colors are very bland.

      I do love their shoes. The skimmers were a big favorite of mine. I really wish they'd bring these back. I so want more colors. Bought a cute pair of D'orsay loafers this Spring. They are so comfortable, different and a bit edgy, imo.

      Delete
    3. Check out the NYT "Dealbook" article that Louise linked to above. It's a really good piece, though Mickey will not like the damning tone.

      Mickey is being petulant right now - blaming the results in the Tilly or the generally sour women's market. And the sale section belies his narrative that the losses are only about the sweaters and knits - there's a lot more dead wood there. He needs to think bigger - more holistically - about what is wrong with J Crew.

      With regard to Madewell - I love it but consider it a very different store. (That red dress that Alexis highlighted is truly fabulous IRL). J Crew should not try to replicate the Madewell aesthetic, but it should try to replicate the notion of brand identity, unity and authenticity, which JC is sorely lacking at the moment.

      I think that Tom Mora not only didn't understand women's bodies and the J Crew age demographic, but he didn't respect the core brand identity. Hope it returns.

      Delete
    4. Here's another thing that is bothering me about the Merchant Prince. After the $600 million+ loss and writedown of last year, he said that JC understood the problems and had corrected them, and that he "had confidence in the clothes moving forward". I guess he had to say that (what choice did he have) but the clothes have not improved and the shoes this season are awful - there is not a single pair that I would buy.

      I love J Crew and I want it back!

      Delete
    5. Maybe they should do a limited-edition throwback capsule collection of some sort. Go back into the archives and re-release a few of the best sellers in limited quantities and see how fast they go. The clincher is that the quality of the original would have to not be sacrificed.

      Delete
    6. Couldn't agree more with everyone. They really need to address sizing issues, fabric and quality as well as design. So many problems of late...yesterday I received 12 J. Crew items from UPS. What a mess. Horrible fabrics, weird shapes and sizes, a damaged pair of earrings. I kept TWO items. A tee shirt and the Banago tote....which J. Crew didn't even have anything to do with in production! That's a pretty low "keep" percentage. I only own two items by Madewell. A utility type jacket and a pair of oxfords. Love them both....BUT.....Madewell on the whole is too young for me and really not my style. I agree....can't blame this on one lowly sweater.....the entire company needs an overhaul. But to say something nice. My two stores have the nicest most accommodating employees. They'll do anything for their customer. On that front, I'm very happy.

      Delete
    7. I also worry that moving Somasack over to J Crew form Madewell will simply torpedo the success of Madewell (the only bright spot in the J Crew company's performance of late) without necessarily fixing the core problems with the J Crew brand.

      Delete
    8. @straycat -- they can't possibly lose any more money by decreasing the profit margins by using good quality and workmanship than they do by having 6 pair of polyester pant styles or boxy shapeless sweatshirt styles languishing in the sale section at 60+% off and still not moving.

      Delete
    9. Mr. Sikhounmuong may be a good designer ... but since he took over Madewell has changed. For the worse in my opinion. Their denim is the only thing that's improved.

      Madewell had the cutest dresses in silk with bright colors & beautiful prints. If you scroll through the dresses/skirts, it is a sea of black, grey, blue, green and brown. BORING & BLAH!

      Delete
  4. It's sad that people lost their jobs, but I think for Tom Mora it’s been a long time coming. Look at the items in the 60% off section - cropped sweatshirts, dropped shoulders, crappy blends, elastic waists, polyester (excuse me, ‘crepe’), ugly, ugly, ugly. Stuff we would never have seen come out of JC even 5 years ago… at least not so much of it. Sure, they’ve always had some design misfires and beaten some trends to death like ruffles, but at least those were feminine. The majority of items coming out of JC the past couple of seasons just didn’t make me feel pretty or put together.

    I’m hopeful about Somsack (especially because he’s no stranger to JC), but if he’s hindered by polyester/cheap fabric, no seaming, skinny arm/thigh and other cost-cutting design shortcuts than I don’t think it will do much for JC in the long term. One side of the coin is that customers want flattering items, and the other side is that they want the clothes to last beyond a single wearing/washing.

    Finally JC, please read your product reviews. There are programs that you can use to mine qualitative data - please consider using them to comb through all of the reviews that you’re collecting and identify some of the major themes. Hint: they’re things that JCA’s have been saying for years, if you ever bothered to pay attention to this free focus group that’s been around since your heyday.

    ReplyDelete
  5. He is still going to be reporting to Jenna Lyons I believe, I think for a real change in the organization she needs to go.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, totally agree TeriLynn. I don't think Tom was the entire problem. Jenna has a huge influence. I like her and I love that she dresses in a way that suits her unique self. It's just not how I dress nor does anyone I know dress like Jenna. I think whether it's Tom or someone else, the aesthetic will remain Jenna's and we'll see the same things.

      Delete
  6. They have the perfect customer focus group right here on this blog. If someone there would read it, they could look like a genius by letting the company know what they need to do to improve.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I agree with a lot of the posts written here. I do think J Crew needs some changes in its design leadership but I hope it doesn't go the way of Madewell. Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of things about Madewell and purchase from them regularly, but it fills a completely different need in my wardrobe and a lot of their clothes are kind of shapeless and too youthful for my needs. I still love JC but I am buying less and less from them and worry about I will do when the items in my wardrobe that I currently love from JC like the classic Schoolboy that they no longer make start falling apart and I won't be able to find good replacements for my wardrobe. The quality and fit are not there in abundance as they used to be and each season the options of what I would want to buy are less and less. I just hope it does not go the way of the shapeless casual wear of Madewell !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. echo all the comments above ...the younger madewell vibe is not what i want from j crew. if i want it i will shop madewell. keep them different...plaese don't blend them together....

      Delete
    2. i like jenna ....i think she is good for J Crew. this new fella from Madewell ? too young?Too associated with Madewell to really make at the "big sister" store ? too bad Marisa Webb couldn't be swayed back....Maybe a women would do better here....just saying.

      Delete
    3. I was excited to see Marissa's collection for Banana Republic. But wow....ugh. I didn't like any of it.

      Delete
    4. OMG I love love LOVE Marrissa Webb's Banana Republic stuff. It's her first collection so there is still some course correction from their old designs in play, but WOW. I've spent more at BR this summer than I have in years.

      The biggest change I've noticed is the quality at BR. They're using pima cotton again, cashmere and silk crepe. Not top luxury fabrics obviously, but many more natural fibers than a year ago. Perfect city workwear and casuals. Great to-and-from beachwear. The accessory game is on point too. I can't understand why J.Crew ever let her go.

      Delete
    5. I haven't liked most of the Banana Republic items either. It's the same issue I have with most of the women's clothing market in general - there's very little that's appropriate for a professional workplace. Too short, tight, sheer, or trendy. But I'm not optimistic that will change anytime soon.

      Delete
  8. I think this is a pretty good replica of what happened at Gap. Mickey gives the creatives their head and forgets about the business and demographics of his core audience. I am a huge fan of Jenna Lyons, but her promotions coincide with a lot of the changes that have sent J. Crew down this path. The Tilly isn't the problem. Their bigger sweater problems are that they still don't send cashmere to their smaller stores when all the other stores in the mall have them and the current quality of their basics make them a worthless purchase. Instead of Mickey espousing the marvels of J. Crews wash process, we had Jenna being name-dropped by Anna Wintour and Solange. I made approximately three to five purchases a week for about five years and haven't made even one in about 5 months. I want J. Crew to go back to making beautiful, desirable clothing. Interesting patterns, well-cut, buttons that don't break in half or fall off after two wears. None of these issues have anything to do with Tom Mora and they began well before he took over. They have become so tied to design and reputation in the fashion world that they forgot to maintain their reputation with their customers. When Jenna started looking askance at anyone who mentioned preppy and J. Crew it was all over. No one wants Vineyard Vines, but classic clothing with a fashionable twist is what we all fell in love with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well said! I have never been on the Jenna bandwagon. What other mainstream brand has a cheerleader? Yah.....get the spotlight off her and onto business for a change.

      Delete
    2. Yes I wholeheartedly agree with this! I do understand that J.Crew is trying to design for who the J.Crew customer is 'now', and yes we almost all do go through style evolutions as our purchasing power increases and our lifestyles change. That said, great classics NEVER go out of style. J.Crew used to be a master of classics with a twist. They need to find where they hid that magic wand.

      Delete
    3. Jennifer, I couldn't agree more! I, too, see many parallels between J Crew's current situation and that at Gap when Mickey was at the helm -

      I am simply astonished that Mickey and Jenna have both managed to escape fallout from the company poor performance thus far. While I completely support the replacement of Tom Mora, to set him up as the sole scapegoat is unconscionable.

      At this point I have little to no confidence that MIckey has the vision or ability to turn the company around. Atheleisure, really? That's the solution?

      I also believe it is time for Jenna to move on from the company. Her aspirational style has simply evolved to the point where she is out of touch with the core J Crew customer. That disconnect is what is tanking their sales.

      Delete
  9. Dear Somsack:

    Congratulations on your new role. I am really excited because I have found precious little to buy from J Crew these days (even though I still frequent the stores and website very often). Lately, the clothes and outerwear have been too boxy (give up those dropped shoulders please....). The vneck tops and tees are cut too low (I don't want everyone to see the top of my bra), and the skirts are too short (I take stairs a lot and don't want to flash bystanders). Please bring back cool prints that are not too trendy (loved School of Fish and the minnows pattern), more classic and wearable silhouettes, and beautiful, rich colors. The overly trendy styles were quite a turnoff.

    Best wishes! Looking forward to seeing (and trying) your collections.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes, and enough with the nasty synthetic fabrics. They are awful and so degrade the quality of your clothes.

      Delete
    2. And if they don't stop making the armholes in tops HUGE and gapping, I'm going to have a fit. And you don't want that to happen. Ha.

      Delete
    3. OMG the armholes and the low cuts. AGREE. If I wanted everyone to see my entire bra, I just wouldn't buy a shirt. And the fabrics. What is a viscose?! It's a sad day when I can't even get a cotton t shirt.

      Delete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Who says J.Crew will look like Madewell? I fully support the change. Somsack has been designing for J.Crew since around 2001. Then they moved him to head designer for Madewell around 2013. I'm sure he understands who that J.Crew woman is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree JSR. Somsack nailed the college left-bank chic Madewell is going for, which is evidence to me that he knows how to follow an idea cohesively and tell a story with clothing. Although J.Crew appeals to a different design mindset I see no reason why he can't bring those overarching talents to the Crew and reinvigorate their women's selection.

      I don't think their goal is to make J.Crew more like Madewell. I think the goal is to bring in an exciting design lead who will make J.Crew exciting again!

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  12. I think the most important issue is fit and quality - there is a lot of cheap fashion out there, of varying quality. JCrew could really fill a niche of making reasonably priced (but not cheap) clothes with good construction and fabric.

    Styles come and styles go, but poorly made clothes look . . . poorly made. And no one wants that.

    ReplyDelete
  13. If only JC bothered to read this blog.. Free and honest input JC! What company wouldn't want to have daily input on their offerings?!? Apparently not JC.


    When I read yesterday about the layoffs and of a JC statement to follow I knew we were going to see some shakeups.
    After getting to know what has been done I'm less than hopeful that we will see a turn for the better. A new designer (and hopefully he won't try to mimic whatever he has been doing at Madewell - fingers crossed - ) but in the end he will still be reporting to JL.. So no matter what he brings in, the last call will be hers.
    And probably Mike's as it is not only the bad design/ ill fitting/cut clothes but the end process of slashing costs that shows in fabric choices and slim and/or short everything ( even bracelets come in shorter lengths these days.. certainly because if you save a link or two in each one you will be able to produce a new one in no time.. but unfortunately we noticed that too JC).

    I'm just sorry for the ones that were let go as in the end they were doing what they were told to do. JL and MD to blame.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hopefully, this shake-up will signify positive changes at our beloved store. I am so wary that until Jenna is reigned in, it is a hopeless cause. Jenna's Picks was a feature I used to love in the style guides...and then it morphed into this weird, pretentious self-obsession that is thematic throughout the entire brand. There are models on the website, right now, that I had to do a double-take to ensure they weren't in fact Jenna.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Violet - Long ago I remarked to a J Crew associate that it was odd to see the Jenna doppelganger. She insisted, and I mean insisted, that it was Jenna modeling the clothes.

      Delete
  15. Quality has been discussed to the death. I'm in agreement. They've eroded trust and confidence by producing low quality, ill fitting goods. And yes, how are you going to have pages and pages of passionately discussed, free, market research since 2008 and not incorporate it into your company?

    I think the biggest piece of the pie the brand is missing is recognizing, accepting and designing for who their core customer is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yah! Remember WHO your customer is! Today after I returned 10 items to the Crew I walked into Talbots. I'm not wild about their prints, etc....BUT I purposely walked around touched everything and you know what I found? Real fabrics. REAL cottons, wonderful thick wovens, real linens. I don't think I found one poly crap mix in the entire store. Their white maxi dress is thick linen and lined and not with a dang bath tissue (like everyone elses on the market). It was FULLY lined. It was not sheer at all. Their skirts and dresses have length to them. I didn't see any sheer things, no slip straps, no super skinny sleeves or pant legs, no weird huge armpits, boxy cuts, saggy shapes........my point? It can be done! All the things that are making me p.o.'d about J. Crew are being done right by Talbots. Their clothing has the quality I look for and their prices are in the same ball park if not cheaper. I didn't see 10,000+ things in a sale section either. J. Crew could take a lesson on quality from Talbots. But as it happens I like a little more flair in my clothing (or whatever you want to call it) so I don't shop much at Talbots. But I admire that they know who their customer is and they don't mess with what they do best. Or insult their customer by pushing fugly crap on them. They stick with the silhouettes that perform well while offering a reasonable amount of trend. I saw a lovely drawstring bucket bag, cute sandals, nice swim cover ups and some cute dresses. I think I'll stop in more often.

      Delete
    2. Agree! I stop in at Talbots frequently. They have nice knits and very cute shoes. Cannot wear their pants, the fit is completely off on me. Sometimes the tops are a wee bit too short for my long torso and my local Talbots for some unknown reason does not carry size XS in their store but overall they have great quality for the price.

      Delete
    3. Stray Cat - Yes, but Talbots had to get rid of the catastrophic Trudy Sullivan for any of that to happen. I was actually a huge fan of the designer they hired, Michael Smaldone, to revamp the brand. However, the then CEO took the re-vamp so far that she alienated everyone. They fired and blamed Smaldone, I think the CFO or COO took some heat too, until they realized Trudy was the problem. Years of course correction to get where they are now.

      Delete
  16. Don't underestimate the business side. It was Mickey who forced the private equity sale to his cronies. As long as the company is in debt I doubt you will see better fabrics. However, even cronies want their money eventually. I am not at all sure Mickey can get the company out of this hole unless they sell the company.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely. As long as they are hold privately, they will keep cutting costs anywhere they can! Feel real bad for those ~170 fired folks, they are nothing but scapegoats in this mess.

      Delete
    2. It's the private-equity model:

      1. Buy the company.
      2. Load w/ debt ... fire, cost-cut to the bone.
      3. Cash out ... uh ... sell at a huge profit.

      Delete
    3. May I add:

      2b. "Advise" for couple of mil a year in the meantime.

      Delete
  17. Excellent comments all!! I HOPE MD, JL, and SS are reading (and I suspect they are). Even Tom Mora said he was "aware" of drunkjcrew:) .
    A new NYT article about the shake up
    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/06/12/fashion/somsack-sikhounmuong-of-madewell-becomes-womens-wear-designer-at-j-crew.html?referrer=

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOTS of good comments in the article you linked, Julie.

      Delete
    2. It raised some great questions about Jenna: why has she been so shielded from all this?

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. This is a great article! I agree with the questions raised. Julie Taylor -- For better or for worse, it's much more expensive for a company to fire a President or CEO than it is to let go of even a senior member of management. J.Crew is heavily in debt right now with EBITDA falling and it would create hefty additional financial obligations to get rid of either Drexler or Lyons.

      I met Ms. Lyons a few times at J.Crew customer parties back in 2008-2011, when I was spending much more at the Crew than I do now. She was always so nice!! And very open to customer feedback. I remember the first time I met her she was wearing a lovely (non-J.Crew) dress with a safari jacket over it, she looked statuesque and beautiful and she had a lovely, lovely vibe. It wasn't even a store event that time, it was the opening of the Madison Ave store and she happened to be there helping them set up the mannequins and dress them. She was so gracious and spoke to anyone who approached her, myself included!

      I like her a lot, and I hope things work out for her. I agree with the comments here that her personal style seems to have evolved beyond what J.Crew does...but I'm still hoping she has some aces up her sleeves for J.Crew lovers. :)

      Delete
    5. Great article. Spot on!

      Delete
  18. Couldn't agree more with TeriLynn 8.44am. Jenna needs to go for JCrew to change. Over the last few years JCrew has been drifting away from the JCrew we all know! At this point her aspirations are way beyond mass retailer and this is way she steers JCrew towards. I still chuckle at "The couture wannabe J. Crew Collection line" from yesterdays NYTimes article. One just needs to read about the role of creative director in fashion industry. "a senior executive at a major fashion brand recently said to me that, in this industry, “the creative director is God.”. As I said yesterday, JCrew became Jenna's dream closet, unfortunately, it is not "America's closet". She needs to go for JCrew to change.

    ReplyDelete
  19. The media frenzy in the past 24 hours has been so fascinating! The links to all these articles - NYT, fashion press - all have literally 300+ comments and thousands of likes/shares! I've read many of the comments and the "non JCA" POVs are, not surprisingly, even harsher criticisms along the same themes discussed here for months, if not years.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hi Alexis!
    This is a reporter with Refinery29. I'm trying to get in touch with you about a story we are working on about the changes at J.Crew. Please email me when you have a moment — would love to hear your thoughts.

    And, any commenters and J.Crew fans who feel strongly about this, please feel free to reach out, as well.

    Gina Marinelli
    gina.marinelli@refinery29.com

    ReplyDelete
  21. You go Alexis...think you can speak for all of us at this point, we have all said it all so many times before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry...way too many 'alls'.

      Delete
    2. I'm all over the place with optimism, trying to keep expectations in check. REPRESENT, Alexis!

      Delete
  22. Hoping for better fit, better form and some length please, not looking for floor-length skirt but it's hard to barely wear the new skirts and dresses in an office setting

    ReplyDelete
  23. This is a great title from Jezebel "J.Crew's Marauding 'Tilly' Cardigan Brutally Murders Nearly 200 Jobs" http://jezebel.com/j-crews-marauding-tilly-cardigan-brutally-murders-200-j-1710617790

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. just read the comments. ouch! :)

      Delete
  24. They need to stop and ask themselves what made them such a success a few years ago - I still think it was classics with a modern cut combined and a few really fun pieces. also, the clothes were good quality for the price point.

    Sigh, I still miss the old J Crew

    ReplyDelete
  25. I am hopeful. The new appointed head of women's design seems to have what Tom Mora lacked: a strong aesthetic. I think that the couple Lyons-Mora simply didn't work well because he wasn't a strong enough designer. Jenna was probably constantly "fixing" his designs and adding her personal touch. This is much more unlikely to happen now, as it was with Marissa.
    On the other end I do hope JCrew doesn't become another Madewell. I like Madewell, but in small doses. One can't wear head-to-toe Madewell and be ready for whatever the day brings. You will probably be ready and look very cute for a barbecue at friends, a picnic on the beach and a cocktail party on a rooftop but not much more than that (like, work). I think most of the JCREW aficionadas miss the fact that the Crew was a one-stop store with clothes that would make you feel put together through your day.

    ReplyDelete

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! :)