Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

J. Crew’s Chief Designer Departs While New CEO Tries to Revive Chain

Updated on
  • Somsack Sikhounmuong will leave the retailer after 16 years
  • Brand will not participate in New York Fashion Week this fall

J. Crew Group Inc.’s search for a new look will have to continue without its lead designer.

Chief Design Officer Somsack Sikhounmuong is leaving the company after 16 years with the Madewell and J. Crew labels, said Margot Fooshee, a spokeswoman for the company.

“Somsack’s current responsibilities, which include the oversight of all product design and development, will be transitioned to other members of our very seasoned and talented design team currently in place,” Fooshee said in an email.

The move is the latest in a turbulent summer for the clothing company. New Chief Executive Officer James Brett took the helm from long-time leader Mickey Drexler in July. He is trying to turn around sales after a battle with creditors to push out the maturity on its debt. The company reported a decline in overall and comparable-store sales in its most recent quarterly report.

Sikhounmuong made his mark as design chief of J. Crew’s sister brand, Madewell, with chic, cozy basics. He took over J. Crew’s womenswear division in 2015 and ascended to the role of chief design officer earlier this year. He had replaced longtime creative director Jenna Lyons, who stepped down in April, months before the scheduled December expiration of her contract.

Brett, the 48-year-old former president of Williams-Sonoma Inc.’s home-furnishings chain, West Elm, has moved quickly to shake up leadership. Last month, the company named Vincent Zanna its chief financial officer.

Style Crisis

J. Crew entered a style crisis around 2015 as it struggled to find its identity somewhere between the affordable preppiness that made it famous and the frilly couture it later sought to adopt. With customers balking at higher prices, the label has tempered its high-fashion aspirations amid mounting losses. J. Crew’s total revenue fell 2 percent to $560.9 million last quarter, with sales at the namesake brand dropping 7 percent to $443.1 million.

The company will skip showing its upcoming collection at New York’s Fashion Week later this month for the first time in six years. J. Crew first showed off its collection at NYFW in 2011 under the direction of Lyons and women’s design head Marissa Webb. At the time, Webb called the full runway show a “big step” for the label. In the seasons since, J.Crew has been one of the few mass market brands to participate in the event.

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