Jenna Lyons Exits J.Crew
By Lauren Sherman
April 3, 2017
BoF has learned that the specialty retailer's longtime creative mastermind is departing the company. Current J.Crew women's head Somsack Sikhounmuong will take over her design duties.
J.Crew’s Jenna Lyons is exiting the company after 26 years with the specialty retailer, BoF has learned.
"Jenna and I got together and we both agreed it was time for a change,” J.Crew chief executive Millard "Mickey" Drexler told BoF in an exclusive interview. "That being said, she’s got plans to do other things. It’s been a great run. There’s a lot of mutual respect between Jenna and me.”
“It has been beyond my wildest dreams to work with such an amazing team of people at such an incredible brand and alongside Mickey — one of retail’s most talented visionaries,” Lyons said in a statement. "I am excited about the next chapter for J.Crew as well as the opportunity for other creative leaders within the organisation to step up and take on new responsibilities. Having spent the better part of my life with J.Crew, I feel an immense pride and love for everyone at the company.”
Current J.Crew women’s head of design Somsack Sikhounmuong — who previously led sister label Madewell’s design and has been with the company since 2001 — will be promoted to chief design officer, overseeing the women’s, men’s and children's design teams effective immediately. All other creative departments that were reporting to Lyons — who was also president of the company — will now report to Drexler.
"Somsack and our design teams have a deep understanding of the aesthetic and style our customers rely on us to deliver, with a proven track record of driving creative vision in-line with our brand DNA,” Drexler said. "We are excited to extend Somsack’s vision across all design categories and look forward to the team’s contributions. As always, delivering the very best product, value and brand experience across channels is our top priority.”
Lyons joined J.Crew in 1990, although her role was elevated after Drexler came on board in 2003. Through their unique partnership, they managed to transform J.Crew into a cultural phenomenon, transforming the way a generation of American men and women dress with Lyons' energised, tongue-in-cheek take on classic preppy tropes. Her candy-coloured designs — from the now-classic "Bubble" necklace to the "No. 2" pencil skirt — impressed themselves on current fashion in a way rarely seen at the mass level. In 2010, Drexler promoted her to president, reflecting her influence in design and at the company.
At the same time, Lyons became something of a cultural icon in her own right, whose personal style — statement eyewear, oversize suiting, sequins for day — became copied the world over. Just this past Friday, Lyons was captured on J.Crew’s Instagram handle celebrating the retailer’s self-made holiday, National Stripes Day.
However, some say that Lyons' role had transitioned out of day-to-day design duties and more into a face for the brand. But like many specialty retailers, J.Crew has been squeezed by discount culture, the casualisation of dress and the consumer's penchant for fast fashion, which relies less on one well-defined aesthetic and more on moving trends quickly to the market. In its 2016 fiscal year, net sales at J.Crew were $2 billion, down 6 percent from the year previous. Sales at stores open at least one year were down 8 percent. Turnaround efforts — including a marked return to the preppy “basics” that performed so well in the past and diversification into athleisure with a multi-season collaboration with New Balance — have yet to move the needle.
The company’s top line has been somewhat boosted by the growth of Madewell, which saw net sales in 2016 increase 14 percent to $341.6 million, with comparable sales up 5 percent. But its debt — which totalled $1.5 billion, net of discount and deferred financing costs, at the end of last year — has proven an albatross, as it becomes current in 2018. J.Crew also has a $350 million revolving loan. The retailer has reportedly considered debt restructuring.
Lyons' post-J.Crew plans are not yet known, but the indelible mark she has made in defining American fashion for the past decade cannot go unacknowledged. As for J.Crew, this announcement is expected to be the first in a series of strategic changes that will allow it to perform in its next iteration.
Wow. I always thought she was being groomed to take over for Mickey Drexler when he decided to leave. So its interesting that is not happening. More interesting is whether or not it was her decision to leave...
Honestly, Jenna Lyons taste had evolved away from J.Crew's core style for many years now. While she was taking fashion forward risks, J.Crew's core customers were not. "Basics with a twist" is J.Crew's true mantra and not Jenna Lyons.
I am, of course, interested to see with Jenna's next move is. Whether she will be scooped up by another retailer or start her own line. Time will tell! ;)
Thoughts on the article? Disagree or agree with Ms. Lyon's leaving J.Crew?
Not surprised by the announcement since a shake up was expected given continuing poor financial performance, but Jenna is a symptom of a larger problem with J Crew i.e. substandard fabrics and quality, unwearable designs, lack of basics, limited in store offerings and online only. I don't shop Madewell, so I'm not convinced Somsack is the answer. Will be interesting to see how long Drexler hangs on.ReplyDelete
Fortune article states she's staying on as creative advisor until her contract runs out in December 2017.Delete
Hi Mygoddy - I recall Somsack and Marissa Webb being featured in some of the catalogs from '09-'10 (I think Somsack illustrated one of the covers) so this may be another attempt for them to recapture some of their "glory days". : )Delete
@silver_lining Agree this could be an attempt to do so; I'm concerned the Crew has been trying to recapture the magic without much succes. With that being said, I'm definitely rooting for the brand & hoping they have a return to the glory days. Most of my shopping is still JC & I continue to find wearable pieces. But that's not happening for enough customers.Delete
I'm absolutely crushed! I feel like I need to buy every Jenna style piece while I still can.ReplyDelete
You and me both! I love her style and what it translated to for J.Crew. I am not a fan of the Madewell hipster aesthetic and fear my days of being able to find bright colors and bold pieces may be few and far between. I was in need of a denim jacket and went in. It was very boxy and I was surprised. I will definitely be picking up some statement jewelry and things like blazers and tees. I feel like I knew her.Delete
My heart is broken... there are no other words!ReplyDelete
wow...26 years. good for her. on to something new!! best of luck to her. she is Fab!!!ReplyDelete
It came as a shock but we should have seen it coming. Curious about her new adventures...ReplyDelete
Tough times call for tough decisions. I liked some of what she did but recently it appeared that J.Crew and Lyons are of two differing minds.ReplyDelete
26 years at one company in fashion is impressive. Her leaving must certainly be tied to the recent troubles. No matter what happens for her and the company in the next months and year it will be interesting.
Can you imagine her severance package $$$$$$$
I read her severance is only $1 million. Her contract attorney should be disbarred.Delete
She was contracted through 2017 at $1m per year and that's what she will get--exactly per her contract, as previously negotiated by both sides.Delete
Just read this from one of the many articles out there:Delete
'After that, according to a 10-K filed on March 21, upon her exit, Lyons is subject to a year-long non-compete agreement in addition to $1 million in cash severance.'
JCAs fluent in Legalese - does the non-compete part mean that she can't go to another retailer for at least another year? Or something along those lines?
I agree that Ms. Lyons has made an indelible mark on my closet, specifically sequins as much as possible (yay!), stripes plus military jackets plus midi skirts (double yay!!), and sharp women's suits made from traditionally male elements (i.e. thin-striped oxford shirts, glenplaids, etc.).ReplyDelete
That said I also agree with you Alexis that perhaps her personal and desired design style has graduated from what J.Crew must offer to satisfy customers, so in that way I am happy to see her going on to her next endeavor, where I'll no doubt follow her and buy AOT stuffs. :)
Agree Roxy Turtle.Delete
Man Repeller has a beautiful piece today on the dent that Jenna put in the fashion universe. Read it - it really shines a light on her influence in terms of our everyday outfits and everyday basics.ReplyDelete
I've always admired her but it's not a surprise that investors demanded change at the top. The problems of her own aesthetic eclipsing that of their customer base were many, it's true. But isn't Mickey just as responsible for the crappy, disposable quality issues, fast-fashion churn and promotion dependency? Those are business decisions as much as they are creative ones.
I hope she starts her own line and wish her all the best.
You're right about Drexler's part in this. He took Gap to the same heights and then tanked it. He's 0-2 and people still call him The Merchant Prince.Delete
I thought the manrepeller piece was fantastic as well.Delete
Oh my, if she starts her own line?! Count me in!Delete
Glad someone wrote this in regards to Mickey. I am a huge fan of both. However, Mickey now has a history of becoming infatuated with his designers and giving them carte blanche to the detriment of his core business. Jenna is an artist. She needs to be able to influence design with sequin harem pants, etc. Mickey's job is to make sure there are business people in place to keep the more creative elements from making it into production. I think when that balance was lost, it was the beginning of this vicious downward spiral. Then, as design was beginning to veer out of control, the discount culture contributed to the failing quality in an effort rein in expenses. I don't know much about Ms. Lyons as a business person, but always thought her elevation to president a risk given the balance between business and creativity was already beginning to show cracks. Madewell isn't really appealing for me, and I haven't bought anything from the last few roll-outs, so question Somsack as a solution. To me, it seems like a repeat of past mistakes. I still have so much nostalgic carryover love for J. crew though, that I hope it gets back where it needs to be. I am also a devoted fangirl of Jenna Lyons and want her to be happy and creatively fulfilled wherever she lands.Delete
It was time. And Mickey is next.ReplyDelete
up to the boardDelete
will be interesting
@mulligan, I thought I remember reading from one of the many recent articles about J. Crew's continuing plummet that Mickey was talking about grooming a successor because he's interested in retiring. Not sure when or how precise my memory is, but either way, I guess it wouldn't come as a total surprise. Agree with silver_lining down thread that this might be the company's death rattle. 😕Delete
It's hard to imagine Jcrew without her. she seems genuinely down-to-earth and lovely and I wish her well. J.crew is trying to survive so let's hope the changes they're making can save the company.ReplyDelete
I will be very disappointed if there is not a swift appointment of another woman to a visible leadership position- it is hard to see J. Crew turning things around and creating appealing products without representation of the core customer demographic at a high level within the company.ReplyDelete
Jenna was a breath of fresh air at first, but then her personal taste veered away from the regular JC customer and the JC designs followed her. I don't want to look like Jenna... I want to look like me! She's still not done looking like "stolen from the boys" but I am. And the last thing I want is Somsack to bring that Madewell collegiate look and out a JC pricepoint and label on it. The two brands are increasingly looking alike, and I don't think that should be. honestly, sometimes I think fondly back to the days when JC was catalog only and wish I could just buy a roll neck sweater or flannel lined khakis without it being covered in whiskers or paint splotches or jewels that I can't wash often one wear.ReplyDelete
I agree! All of you have great points. It's time for HER to go!Delete
What I wouldn't do for a new roll neck sweater...Delete
@Muffin I often daydream about that oatmeal rollneck sweater I wore to death in high school. It was machine washable and would have lasted another decade if I hadn't gone and got ketchup smeared all up one sleeve.Delete
Another dreamer over here on the rollneck sweater...in high school as well...ironically mine was red (wouldn've hid that ketchup)...Delete
I'm not heartbroken or happy about Jenna's departure, but I'm definitely not on board with Somsack's vision/aesthetic. The pre-Somsack era at Madewell was more to my liking as well.ReplyDelete
My first thought when I saw the above picture of her.....I'd leave too if I had to look like that everyday. That outfit is dreadful. Aside from that I think the entire empire needs to fall....and rebuild it's self from the ground up with a new vision. Just canning Jenna isn't going to make significant changes happen.ReplyDelete
I agree, the outfit in that photo looks terrible. I don't mind the overall look, but the skirt seems like it's 2 sizes too big.Delete
Yeah the outfit in that pic exemplifies the problem. Her quirky style is great for her but it doesn't work for most women. Even when they tried to streamline the offerings and not have so many off the wall pieces, they still keep the mismatched styling on the models as their "signature," but the signature is off putting. I don't want to buy a skirt when they pair it with a clashing top and I can't think of normal ways to style it for my life. I also don't want them to go back to basics so much that everything is super boring. I do want nice fashion-forward pieces, I just want ones that are wearable and flattering for most women. There should be a way to be fashionable without being over the top. They haven't found the right balance yet.ReplyDelete
I agree. I want to be able to buy a Tippi Sweater all year around in all colors....which only seems reasonable. The Crew needs its core clothing that never gets screwed with (style, fabric, quality, cut) and less sequins, satin and things of made netting and weird stuff. The real world is made of fashion models and people who work in the fashion industry. Time for a whole new vision. They need to open their eyes and look around at where we are going.Delete
I'm not sad at all, it's time for her to move on. I think she helped elevate J Crew more into the public eye and gained new exposure for the company in print and television but I also think it ultimately took the brand into a different direction that became Jenna Lyons and not J Crew which is another reason why I think J Crew is having an identity crisis. I really didn't enjoy all of the years of models that looked like her, feather shirts and some of the other stuff. It's not her fault there were bad choices made about fabrics and manufacturing, that takes a village, but I think she steered the women's line into a direction that wasn't checked and the problems have been adding up. Maybe she will end up with a lifestyle brand of her own.ReplyDelete
All I want is the women's line to have the level of quality the men's line seems to receive. I don't see much polyester in the men's line, it all looks much nicer. Did Jenna do that in order to increase profits? I remember Mickey talking about how Jenna got his attention in the early years because she would wear heels with cargo pants and such. Their early years were amazing.ReplyDelete
@Elizabeth, I've noticed the exact same polyester problem with the women's line at Banana. Their men's line is much nicer and still uses cotton (my husband still shops there.) It seems to be a big problem with these big chain retailers in general (Ann Taylor and loft are also full of poly these days as well.) I guess it's a way to keep costs down or increase profit, like you said. Disappointing to say the least.Delete
This is being positioned as a mutual decision between Jenna and Mickey and that may be the standard PR narrative, but Jenna may end up the real winner here. Her real talent is in design and in particular as a stylist. There are a lot of risks here that J Crew is a sinking ship: brutal retail environment, dying malls and therefore mall brands, The Amazon effect, millenials spending on experiences/technology not clothes, massive debt coming due in 2018, persistent design and quality weaknesses, pricing and promotion woes, it goes on.ReplyDelete
As sad as it is for longtime fans who remember the days when the brand was everything, Jenna may be getting out and moving on to opportunities that utilize her talents just in time.
Mickey drove Gap into the ground after a brief rise to success, remember ...
Ruffles, all of your comments in this thread have been so articulated and thoughtful, I really appreciate them. Agree with your thoughts here as well. 👍Delete
I agree that her talent is in design and styling. One thing I'll take from her reign (ha!) is the double-fold cuff - great styling trick and one I use all the time. I also credit her with bringing the third-party brands and doing the collaborations. I love those. I discovered new brands because of that, and I also loved it when JC supported the brands that I already loved. But I think JC also needs to focus on itself for awhile: stop worrying about being on-trend, close some stores (sorry, but future of retail really is online), and reevaluate their pricing (either stop with the pricing games or just start at a lower price and keep it there)/production (smaller runs build higher demand). You can't seek to be an aspirational brand when you behave like a clearinghouse (40% off new season within a few weeks of a rollout??).Delete
@eeps, yes to everything you said about how j crew should try to revitalize itself. Think you hit the nail on the head. I hope they're listening!!Delete
I agree! I would love to see her do her own line.Delete
all the comments here a valid, 25 years is a long time with a fashion company and IMO she has had her time. Not sure that bringing the Madewell guy over to bring that look is going to work, but we don't know that is what is planned. there hasn't been anything in the stores for the past 2-3 years that has spoken to meReplyDelete
Maybe she will end up at the GAP? :-)
Jenna will go up! not down.Delete
I feel like this might be the death rattle for JC. They continue to make the same mistakes over and over. It was also concerning that pretty much everything in the February catalog was on sale+40% off in March (or maybe it has always been that way?).ReplyDelete
It just baffles me that they are unable to maintain the integrity of their basics/classics while dabbling in some trendy, fun items (the “gravy”, Ruffles!) as well. Maybe offer 1 OTS top that actually stays put on the shoulders and doesn’t ride up, and a pair of wide-leg chinos that IRL look like the online pic. Read the online reviews and lay off the distressing on just one style of boyfriend chinos because customers keep complaining about that. Instead, they seem to double down on poor design and construction choices despite all of the feedback they receive.
I’ve got to hand it to JC - when they pay attention to design, fit, AND quality, they nail it. That long-sleeve striped dress (F1725) sold out last year, came back this spring and sold out again (now appears to be popping back). Somebody was thoughtful enough to add the front and back darts, and made sure that the stripes lined up in the back (and hide the zipper!).
I don’t think it’s going to matter who’s at the top because the company doesn’t seem to care about overall quality and/or customer feedback and hasn’t for a long time. The culture would have to change, and I don’t know if it’s possible given the race to the bottom in retail right now. However, I will be interested to see what Jenna does next - the catalogs won’t be the same without her!
In defense of the Crew, I have been looking at other retailers this morning for an orange sweater. Stupidly I missed out on ordering a new orange Tippi sweater this spring and now I'm on the hunt. I've just looked through the most kooky, ugly, ill fitting garments...pages and pages of the ugliest clothes I've ever seen. So...what does this mean? We have changed how we dress so radically even from when Jenna started with the Crew. I SOOOO hope they don't fold and go back to classic cuts that flatter women....because we have enough ugly cheap stuff out there for sale. Anybody seen a nice flame orange Tippi like sweater any where for sale? I might have to resort to ebay or something...ReplyDelete
Hi Stray Cat - I'd definitely check eBay. That color can be tricky so if somebody bought one on Final Sale and didn't like it, they may try to sell. I often see Tippis there NWT (new with tags), usually in non-neutral colors. It may also pop back online - I think JC's due for another big sale update. : )Delete
You may also want to check out the Teddie sweater at Factory - I recall them getting good reviews from JCA's in the past. There's a "brilliant coral" online but it's hard to gauge color from the pics sometimes. Good luck!
Have you tried Boden?Delete
@Stray Cat, what about Banana? I bought two of their Merino wool sweaters last year and they are quite nice and comparable to the Tippis. Many JCAs have reviewed them this year and it seems the quality is still good. I just looked and they offer a 'Coral Glory' shade which might be nice. (Though now I realize the shade isn't as vibrant as the flame color you're after.) Might still be worth a look.Delete
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Agree. There's plenty of blame to go around for falling sales and Mickey should shoulder some as well--this is not all on Jenna. I have read that he is on the verge of retirement anyway so when his time comes it will just be couched as retirement and not being forced out.Delete
Remember when the Jackie cardigan was part cotton/part cashmere? From around 2004? I still have some of those and they've held up well. That's what I miss. Basic with a twist. So, put an embellishment on a staple and I'm there. Bring back basic jeans, not just high end selvedge/paint splattered/frayed end denim. I'd even buy a critter covered pair of khaki's or a seersucker skirt or a suit with sleeves that actually go to my wrists and full length pants (shorts are not acceptable). It's harder and harder to find things I like each roll-out. I used to spend thousands per year and regularly got rewards on my jcrew card. Now, if I buy enough to even earn one, I spend it on another white tshirt because I don't like anything else. Sigh. Nostalgia.ReplyDelete
When they were good - they were really good. I miss that J Crew.Delete
Jenna was certainly a style Icon. While I loved some of the quirky print mixing and hi lo aesthetic, there was much in her style that I didn't love. I don't wear leopard print, cargo pants, pajamas to work, or mens wear. In fact I was rather annoyed when she stated something akin to "I don't do hourglass". Jenna may not, but many do, so stop trying to pretend we are boys. While I am petite and not very curvy I do appreciate waist shaping and other elements that make me look good. J crew could use a bit more tailoring. Not that someone from Madewell will fix this, as I can't seem to buy a shirt there that isn't a glorified potato sack. Madewell's color palette is sorely lacking as well. It is dull. I love J crew's color assortment, and it is one of the reasons I shop there. I've actually been liking more and more at J Crew, so I hope Jenna's departure does not mean the end for them. With Anthropologie also selling overpriced sacks I'm not sure where I would shop.ReplyDelete
I wouldn't mind seeing Jenna with her own endeavor or line, but I'm not that teared up about her leaving. hopefully J crewe will not just try to rehash her style with less finesse.
I think that's the reason I'm not generally drawn to Madewell's aesthetic either - I'm petite with broad shoulders and not very curvy so I often look for pieces that help give me some definition. I don't get that from most Madewell or Anthro pieces for that matter. I, too, am hoping JC doesn't try to recreate Jenna's style because I'm not sure that would work.Delete
I don't think Jenna was fired or kindly asked to resign, I think she left the sinking ship with a drunken captain in command. Or she might have had enough of her role and have wanted to go back to designing clothes.ReplyDelete
her contract is up at year-end anyway....Delete
@bythelake lol... In agreement about the potato sacks. I love how Jenna's influence has pushed by style. I genuinely appreciate it. However, I am an hourglass shape and love a tailored look. I checked out Madewell for the first time this year, and can't see that anything there would look nice on me. There is still a lot to like about J Crew (and a lot to dislike), so I am truly hoping Jenna's departure (along with their many problems), is not the end.ReplyDelete
Sorry, not sorry. I guess I'm just still bitter about the loss of the old J Crew. I'm one of those buying more from ebay than the stores these days.ReplyDelete
Off subject...I stopped in the store yesterday and saw IRL the gingham off the shoulder top I was so enthusiastic about. Well...I won't be able to wear it. The side seam from the armpit to the hem is about 12"...this top is very short. So I'd be exposing not only my shoulders but my stomach...ach...too much skin for me! The chambray off the shoulder dress might not work either. It has that annoying elastic threaded through where someone arbitrarily thinks all women's waist is or should be and that never works for me. They are always placed too high. Funny thing happened...I walked into Talbots....their dresses are long enough for me....and I quickly realized I walked in on a fashion show. Lots of ladies seated around....so I crept around quietly looking and walked in the back of the speaker and when I turned all the ladies were looking at me! Later on a woman came up to me and told me I looked so cute that she thought I was one of the models (yah...all the models were old ladies...ha). I said how kind her comment was but I was wearing all J. Crew! I had on my new heavy cotton trench in navy (love it) a Tippi sweater, scarf and j. crew earrings. Skinny jeans and navy loafers and my navy Rebecca Minkoff bag. I suggested she check out the Crew and she told me she was too old. There you go....Crew! Gotta include all ages your target audience! Then popped into Banana and found the most delicious top...designed by that former J. Crew lady...I would link it but it's not on the website. It's a boat neck small navy/white gingham wrap top. Long self belt to wrap around your waist and tie. It has an interesting detailed long sorta puffy sleeve. Totally nothing I usually like but it is so chic! It looked great just with my jeans...so white jeans will look great. Huge earrings are in order as well!ReplyDelete
Stray Cat, love everything about this story! (except the part about the new OTS top or dress possibly not working out, booo! Disappointing, especially since I know you were so excited to order both.) Your outfit sounds so nice and what an awesome compliment from the Talbots shopper. Woot woot!Delete
@Stray Cat how amusing!Delete
I like your blog site.It is very creativeLatest Fashion OnlineReplyDelete
Late to this game, but I just found out about this. Hey, I'm one of those former J.Crew fans who left when things went all "Jenna Lyons" and I couldn't wear, let alone afford, most of what she and the company were pushing at the time. Sequins are cute, unexpected mix and match can be fun, but I looked to J.Crew for styling as much as pieces, and I dare say I didn't want to look like a single woman on the page after that. So, I quit buying and even quit looking, having J.Crew as an after thought.ReplyDelete
So recently I went back to the webpage after wondering what they were putting out these days (ah yes, I went there because I heard predictions that J.Crew would file for bankruptcy), and low and behold one of my favorite models is back - from being gone for years! Here's to real-looking women (yes, even thin women look real when healthy), stylish and chic clothes that we can make our own, colors that wow and can't be found in any discount line, and a general better business model as the days and months move forward.
Speaking of moving forward, will Jenna still be part of the CFDA Fashion Fund?