NEW YORK, United States — J. Crew failed at women’s fashion last year, the company’s chief executive admitted on Wednesday.
CEO Mickey Drexler provided a candid assessment of what he described as a “lousy year” for J. Crew’s women’s business in a rare appearance on a conference call with analysts, after overall sales at the brand remained stagnant at around $621 million. “Fashion is guaranteed never to always be right,” said Drexler, a veteran retail merchant famed for steering apparel giant Gap through its rise in the 1990s. “That’s the only guarantee in my many years of doing this."
Drexler pointed to various strategic missteps and fashion flubs as the culprits. J. Crew meddled too much with its classic styles and offered unappealing silhouettes and fits, he said. Women’s pants, for instance, didn’t sell well because J. Crew didn’t offer compelling styles outside of its mini or pixie lines.
Meanwhile, J. Crew’s other women’s fashion brand is marching forward just fine. Madewell, with its popular leather totes and distressed denim, remains on a tear, with sales rising 35 percent to about $245 million in 2014. And the men’s business at the J. Crew brand seems to be performing just fine, propping up sales at the namesake brand.
Concerns about the styling of J. Crew’s women’s clothes have swirled since 2013, when a personal essay published by Forbes prompted Drexler to admit that his brand may have strayed too far from its roots—that preppy, quirky, urban cool it&aposs well known for. The CEO reiterated some of that sentiment on the call, noting that maintaining consistency within the brand is paramount. “An iPhone looks like an iPhone,” said Drexler, who recently stepped down from Apple’s board of directors. “And I don’t think J. Crew women’s looked like J. Crew women’s as much as it could have, nor do I think that we marketed it and messaged it as well as we could have.”
J. Crew noticed the style problems early on and put its design and merchandising teams to work, bringing back more color and refocusing on “cool, classic clothes,” Drexler said, adding that some of those changes are already evident in stores. Now, “I could say we’re making progress,” he said,” but the customers will in fact vote on that.”