A “Dear John” Letter to J. Crew

To Mickey Drexler

Dear Mickey,

I write you with a heavy heart. You promised me that things were going to get better between us, but you still seem to be lost. The news around town is your sales are down and your debt rating isn’t great.

For years, I have been faithful to you, buying into your ideas, filling my closet and heart with tees, shirts, pants, dresses and even suits. You were my reliable love, a high-quality guy consistently offering the expected, with enough fashion surprises, that I kept coming back for more. I could always count on you. You made my life easy.

Mark down tee shirts at J Crew.

Markdown tee shirts at J. Crew.

No one could do it better. I never missed a chance to stop by in the mall. I toss most catalogs, but always save J. Crew for my next cup of coffee. Inevitably, I would grab my cell and buy into your fantastic stories once again. You were my Svengali.

When I wrote you months ago, you promised to change, go back to the old Mickey. I think you forgot who you are, the quality, pedigreed guy with colorful new ideas. You were the diamond-in-the-rough, in a sea of mall stores with similarly dismal apparel offerings. You don’t understand the unique place you had in my mind or the mall.

Did you hang with the wrong crowd? Do you think you should play with the fast-fashion girls to be cool? You played their cheap tricks and confused me with your reckless behavior.

As casual apparel got more athletic, you missed putting a J. Crew spin on it. This revolution was about sportiness, comfort and new materials, not the same old fits and fabrics.

Your career team is on a losing streak too, poor fabrics and skimpy fits. They clearly need a new coach.

J Crew career dress.

J. Crew career dress.

Sadly, you are addicted to cropped pants, cashmere cardis and slubby tees. You don’t recognize that even classic girls evolve. Your not thinking clearly. I know you have good genes. Your kid-sister Madewell, is on track to become a star. She has a clear brand direction and a bright future.

I’m sorry to say there is someone else, named Club Monaco. I get contemporary classic fashion-with-a-twist again. I’m willing to pay higher prices for quality in a hipper environment. I’m tired of the dark-paneled woodiness and your chaotic behavior. My current love is handsome, sexy and takes me to new places. He “gets” me.

Club Monaco spring trench.

Club Monaco spring trench.

Maybe someday we will be together again? Good brand management and design is about evolution and reinvention. You need an intervention and to hang with a better crowd. Your loving family hasn’t forgotten the good man you are.

 

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The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of  Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on brand experience, business strategy, trends, creative direction, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies.  CONTACT US TODAY! 

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6 Five-Star Specialty Retailers in a Lackluster Field

I was shopping in New York recently and feeling rather uninspired. I usually have an agenda, a new store or retailer, I am particularly excited about. Most large retailers make their own apparel and accessory products, so the watery soup is often spoiled by too many cooks, adding their managerial spice. It’s increasingly hard to find good retail theater, a strong brand identity and exciting, well-designed product, that hasn’t been tainted by levels of bureaucrats.

I challenged myself to come up with 6 “five-star” retailers that are doing an outstanding job, with a consistent brand experience and compelling fashion in a lackluster field:

1. Madewell, 2. Athleta, 3. Club Monaco, 4. Michael Kors, 5. Zara, 6. Lou & Grey

1. Madewell, 2. Athleta, 3. Club Monaco, 4. Michael Kors, 5. Zara, 6. Lou & Grey

Madewell – is the baby sister of J. Crew. I have been a long-time J. Crew proponent, even though the mothership has stumbled lately. Madewell is coming into its own with American casual classics, based around core denim pieces. You know to expect great jeans, chambray shirts, denim jackets, hip tees and knits, funky socks, rustic leather bags and shoes and slightly bohemian jewelry. The colors are simple and lean to the neutral side. The collection is totally wearable and much better-than-average quality for the price, a winning combination. This high-growth chain has little competition in the mall and will now be sold in Nordstrom as well.

Athleta – I was not a fan of fan of Athleta when Gap purchased it in 2008 for a mere $150 million. At the time their “zen-like” yoga prints and mass-market color sense paled against activewear, fashion pioneer Lululemon. Gap was betting on the powerful athleisure trend in apparel and has put their considerable product development muscle and resources behind the chain. They now have over 100 stores and have shed those expected “new-age” prints for a powerful collection of more urbane, sexy, forward clothing. They get that the athletic trend is worn as much out of the gym, as in, with their deep collection of cosmopolitan casual dresses, knit tops, bottoms and huge assortment of mix and match swimwear. I actually bought a $500 leather jacket at this formerly “perky” yoga chain and have never even done a downward dog.

Club Monaco – is a Canadian-based acquisition, part of the Ralph Lauren Corporation. Certainly not a household word, they only have approximately 140 stores worldwide. Club Monaco offers women’s and men’s collections of modern, urbane classics at affordable luxury prices points. Tasteful, upscale and contemporary, they are especially strong in knit tops, dresses, jackets, skirts and accessories for work and play. The quality of design and materials, far exceeds the price points to make Club Monaco a fairly hidden gem.

Michael Kors – Wandering through Macy’s first floor flagship the other day, I was blown away by the crowd of at least 40 people in the Michael Kors shop. The Coach concession across the hall had 2 visitors. it wasn’t a special event, it was business as usual for this hot-shot, brand-of-the-moment.

Michael Kors is a text-book example of consistent branding. The uber-glam handbags, watches, shoes and “bit of an after note”, clothing are precisely on the same urbane plane. Their stores, website, marketing collateral and product are as in sync as an Argentine tango. Chock it up as a real designer with one eye for everything. Even if you are getting tired of his ubiquitous bags, this brand is fashion branding royalty.

Zara – is fast-fashion at it’s finest. Owned by Spanish parent Inditex, in my book it blows away competitors H&M and Forever 21. They consistently put out easy-to-shop collections of fashion forward apparel and accessories, that defy their puny price points. Taken out of context the styling and quality could be mistaken for some of the best. There is no doubt what to expect at Zara, the best fashion trends in real-time, at really low prices. Zara brand profile as fashion leader, is crystal clear.

Lou & Grey – is a new free-standing store concept brand from parent Ann, Inc. It was born from the success of loungy apparel in their Loft chain. When I stumbled upon the Natick, Ma concept store, I was pleasantly surprised by the small sophisticated, upscale environment and compelling collection of lifestyle casual apparel and earthy accessories. This is the best thing Ann Inc. has done in a while. It is easier to do something new than reinvent history. Ann Taylor and Loft have become sterilized versions of their glory days with poor quality, dull offerings and banal stores. Currently only 7 stores,  Lou & Grey is one to watch.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel, footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

The Feminine Five

Colored jeans are getting all the press, as the biggest trend you can get your mannied paws around this season. There is another huge trend quietly demanding the hearts and wallets of the fashion obsessed and ordinary mortals alike.

I call it The Feminine Five, five big trends in women’s (and girls) styling that can inspire romance novels and separate the girls from the boys. These ladylike details, fabrics and techniques are infinitely flattering and straddle the boundary of classic and fashion. They fit into most women’s lifestyles, contemporary and classic and work on all ages. Consequently, they are ringing registers around the world.

The trend looks especially modern when paired with casual pieces like jeans, shorts and washed jackets. These trends take on a dressier attitude when worn with refined pieces like tailored jackets, pleated and pencil skirts.

5 top fabric and styling trends!

5 top fabric and styling trends!

Lace fabric is everywhere from netting to heavy over-embroidered cottons. Lace fabrics are found on tops, skirts, shorts, dresses, shoes and bags.

Ruffle mania has continued to dominate on tops, skirts and dresses; from bold irregular ruffles at Crewcuts to tiny reflective ruffles on Lululemon sleeves.

Eyelet fabrics are having a renaissance on breezy tops, shorts, dresses and flouncy skirts. They lean folkloric or juvenile worn head-to-toe or in color.

Crochet details are showing up on shoes, bags and trims, as well as lacy crochet sweaters.

Pleats and peplum details are found on skirts, tops and casual and tailored jackets.

The Feminine Five are found in many of the hottest wholesale and retail brands – Free People, Zara, Club Monaco, Robert Rodriguez, Milly, Alice & Olivia, Joie, Rachel Zoe, Diane Von Furstenburg, Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren, Ted Baker, Christian Louboutin and many more.

I expect these highly salable styling trends to continue in seasons to come.

Dix& Pond is the blog of Dix& Pond Consulting.

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Exclusive Club Monaco

Ralph Lauren is clearly among the greatest brand builders in the history of the fashion industry. It is no wonder why the Ralph Lauren Corporation purchased Club Monaco the urban casual, Canadian-born specialty wholesale and retail company. They have been quietly growing this little jewel in their portfolio since 1999. They currently have more than 65 stores in North America and locations in Europe, Asia and the Middle-East. They have yet to launch their e-Commerce site. Holiday 2011 sales at Club Monaco were up 17%.

Back detail is an alluring touch at Club Monaco.

Back detail is as alluring touch at Club Monaco.

The stores are filled with sophisticated, casual clothing suitable for the lifestyles of contemporary men and women.  It is a textural collection with that mixes high-quality fabrics and neutrally based color stories. Modern and minimal pieces easily mix into the wardrobes of the tastefully hip, such as trench coats and pleated skirts. There is an unstudied sexiness to the chic pairings with a strong sense of identity. Even the accessories are distinctly on-trend, not the cheesy, key items blown out by most specialty retail chains. (See Club Monaco)

Club Monaco is far from a household name yet, and that is part of its appeal. They only have about 65,000 Facebook fans, but this” little engine that could” is judiciously expanding their reach. Ralph Lauren will continue to shepherd this brand carefully, so it is surely not going to lose its je né sais quoi.

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