Photographer: Marlene Awaad

Why J.Crew Decided to Ditch High Fashion

Mickey Drexler goes back to basics

Mickey Drexler, J.Crew Group's chief executive, keeps bringing up one word: "Heritage." 

In fact, he said it eight times on a conference call with analysts on Thursday, promising to guide J.Crew back to its more traditional roots after veering too far into the world of high fashion. "You'll see a calibration of products, not a change in direction," said Drexler, who's been battling to turn around J.Crew's women's business. The company's flagship label is having a rocky year, with comparative sales dipping 13 percent, to $506 million, last quarter. 

J.Crew's fashion collections, under creative director Jenna Lyons, looked to move J.Crew into higher-end couture. The pricier offerings, such as $800 jackets and $300 pumps, are more fashion-forward than the traditional J.Crew selection. This higher-end gear will be "a lesser percent of investment and a lesser percent of perception," Drexler said. Instead, J.Crew will refocus on merchandise that built the label's reputation.

Jenna Giannelli, an analyst at Citigroup, says she's seen the fashion focus shift in stores already, with more cardigans, chinos, solid colors, and basic stripes. Last year, as she sees it, J.Crew lost the connection with many of its customers by straying too far from the sensible styles it was known for. "It's a great first step in renewing that relationship," she says, noting that J.Crew still has to contend with rising competition and the effects of cannibalization as it expands its lower-priced shops, J.Crew Factory and J.Crew Mercantile.

Drexler maintained a hopeful tone, pointing to a J.Crew shop in New York that will be getting a full rollout of new products on Sept. 14. "I'm not going to say I think it's the be-all, end-all, because nothing ever is," he said. "But I think you're going to be really pleased, and what you see, more importantly, I hope the customers are."

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