Can Brendon Babenzien Make J.Crew Cool Again?

So Babenzien designed his J.Crew to do something different. His philosophy is so direct and his ambitions seem so modest, that you would be forgiven for thinking that his vision for the brand was simple. Because, when you hear that, his plan — to make affordable, accessible, and high-quality clothing available to the largest audience possible — sounds easy. Doesn’t reach the monumental scale of J.Crew’s problems. Just messing around in the margins.

But then you look around and realize that no one else is doing it.

You will think it would take me longer, figuring out what to wear for a job interview at GQ. But at the time, nearly a decade ago, there was really only one answer to the question: I wore J.Crew (white oxford shirt, black knit tie, lightly washed jeans). It’s something I can afford, but in a sense it’s also something I know I have to wear. In cities around the country, people in jobs with no formal dress code — marketers and low-level architects, chefs and lawyers — seemingly overnight, used the J.Crew uniform. My new colleagues are partly responsible for this change, having endorsed the brand’s casual yet easy-to-wear style on the pages of this magazine. But they seem to be walking, too: After I took the job, I saw many of my twenty-something colleagues wearing J. Crew shirts, as well as forty of our supervisors. Occasionally, it gets whispered, so does the editor-in-chief.

J.Crew started the catalog business in 1983, and quickly became a rival to established brands such as LL Bean and Lands’ End. But even in the early 2000s, when Todd Snyder started out as a menswear designer, “men were always the next thing to think about,” Snyder told me. “The business isn’t very big, and it’s always in the basement.” That changed under CEO Mickey Drexler, who joined Gap in 2003 — and, Snyder recalls, encouraged experimentation. Along with marketing Andy Spade, they converted a Tribeca liquor store into a J.Crew high-end liquor store, surrounding the brand’s new designs for men with its premium merchandise. third party, like Red Wing boots. The most successful of those designs — such as the instant Ludlow suit, a slim-cut style suitable for weddings, board meetings, and first dates — has been sold less than a mile away, at the company’s first men’s-only store (after Liquor Store) in SoHo. “It took off, and then it went on and on,” Snyder said. (Drexler declined to talk about the record.)

But the trick to aligning your brand with fashion is that the attention of the fashion world is fleeting. And less than a decade after Ludlow was born, signs of change were everywhere. The dress code for the office has begun to be relaxed. Sports shoe culture has flourished. Fast fashion started copying trends from European catwalks at a faster rate, and Kanye West traded his tweed jacket for $265 in a Rottweiler t-shirt from Givenchy. J.Crew’s casual polish — low-rise ankle jeans and lace-up shoes — feels almost instantly outdated.

However, it’s not just Americana that is losing traction. The retail model that J.Crew used to stand out began to fall out of fashion, and the company was slow to develop an e-commerce strategy. This situation was further enhanced by in 2011 Drexler arranged a leveraged acquisition to make J.Crew a private company and carry it with huge debt. “The company has put themselves in a position where they cannot afford to be successful,” says Maggie Bullock. In 2014, the company reported a loss of more than half a billion dollars. Drexler left in 2019. The following year the company filed for bankruptcy. Can Brendon Babenzien Make J.Crew Cool Again?

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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