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Chris Benz Exits J.Crew

The womenswear designer is leaving the challenged brand just as it emerges from bankruptcy protection.
Chris Benz | Source: Getty Images
By
  • Chantal Fernandez
BoF PROFESSIONAL

NEW YORK, United States — Designer Chris Benz is exiting J.Crew, where he oversaw womenswear since February 2019, during a tumultuous period for the company in the years after the exit of former Chief Design Officer Jenna Lyons in 2017 and former Chief Executive and Chairman Millard "Mickey" Drexler in 2018.

A representative for J.Crew declined to comment.

Benz, who first worked at J.Crew right out of Parsons School of Design before launching his namesake label and also leading Bill Blass, joined J.Crew while it was in the midst of what became more than a yearlong search for a CEO. In January, former Victoria’s Secret Lingerie Chief Executive Jan Singer was brought on to lead the challenged brand. (Sister brand Madewell is led separately by CEO Libby Wadle.) Sources close to the company told BoF that Singer plans to bring in Olympia Gayot, the current vice president of design at Victoria's Secret, to replace Benz. Before VS, Gayot spent seven years at J.Crew, mostly working under Lyons during the store's heyday.

The news comes just as J.Crew is exiting bankruptcy protection. After years of challenges due to heavy debt loads and dwindling mall traffic, J.Crew’s parent company Chinos Holdings filed for Chapter 11 protection in May, the first major American retailer to declare bankruptcy in the wake of store closures during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns. The company said it expected revenues to be down 36 percent year-over-year in 2020.

In August, the court confirmed the company's reorganisation plan, which involves turning $1.6 billion of debt into equity, with new owners including Anchorage Capital Group LLC, Davidson Kempner Capital Management LLC and GSO Capital Partners LP. Previous plans to spin out Madewell to raise cash were paused as of this reorganisation plan. The company also renegotiated leases with landlords, which it said will result in $70 million in savings in 2020 and $60 million in 2021.

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