Why J. Crew’s Vision Of Preppy America Failed

by MR Magazine Staff

In 2012, Meghan O’Neill, a writer and comedian, started an online video-collage series called “J. Crew Crew.” Each video was made entirely with images taken from the J. Crew catalogue and followed the J. Crew Crew as it voyaged into a world of surreal intrigue and mystery. In one episode, a willowy detective in a tweed jacket and Ray-Bans travelled to an island wedding, where she attempted to solve a murder with the help of two child ghosts (girls dressed in J. Crew’s kids line, Crewcuts); in another, a woman in a white linen shirt was abducted into a cult in which everyone wears jewel-toned special-occasion dresses. “J. Crew Crew” made fun of the bizarre alternative reality conjured by J. Crew’s catalogues, in which children and adults dressed exactly alike, Jackie O. and Helena Bonham Carter had combined their closets, and faux-quirky mean girls shared an unlikely, touchy-feely bonhomie. It was funny because it acknowledged how attractive that reality could be. Few brands have imagined their worlds as completely as J. Crew. From the eighties onward, the company’s “style guides” were really life-style guides; they mapped the hours and days of a certain kind of charmed existence, showing how a recent college grad with a creative-professional job might dress for brunch, work, a date, a hike, a vacation, or a wedding. When the last full installment of “J. Crew Crew” appeared, in 2014, that vision was still appealing. J. Crew exercised an unparallelled influence over the way affluent Americans dressed, especially at work; Michelle Obama wore J. Crew during state visits to Turkey and the U.K. It’s startling to realize that, by then, the company was already beginning its decline. Sales at J. Crew have fallen for two years. The company is two billion dollars in debt, putting it in danger of bankruptcy. A few months ago, J. Crew shuttered its bridal business; earlier this month, Jenna Lyons, its president and creative director, announced that she would be stepping down; and, last week, J. Crew laid off a hundred and fifty employees and eliminated a hundred open positions. (Frank Muytjens, its head of menswear, is also leaving.) In an attempt to boost revenue, the company has started selling its clothes through Nordstrom. In 2010, when Nick Paumgarten profiled Mickey Drexler, J. Crew’s C.E.O., for this magazine, none of this was imaginable. What happened? Read more at The New Yorker.