At 1st blush, Supreme and J.Crew would look to have tiny in typical. One is inspired by New York City’s gritty skate culture of the ’90s the other embraces the preppy style that 1st emerged at Ivy League colleges in the 1910s.
But Brendon Babenzien, who spent a lot more than decade defining style at Supreme prior to taking more than J.Crew’s menswear division in 2021, sees a distinct by way of line involving them. When carried out properly, each aesthetics ought to be timeless and resist trends. “Fashion is about getting you to buy more products by convincing you that what you own is no longer relevant,” he says. “But in some ways, fashion doesn’t enter the conversation at [either J.Crew or Supreme]. They’re about how it’s really cool to wear your old clothes.”
For 3 decades, Babenzien has been a fixture on America’s style landscape. He established his style chops as Supreme’s inventive director, a position he held for practically two decades. In 2015, he left the streetwear brand to reboot Noah, the preppy menswear label he launched with his wife Estelle in 2002. He continues to style for Noah and just released his fall/winter collection for the brand.
J.Crew brought him on final May, a year soon after it declared bankruptcy. Last month, the brand released Babenzien’s debut collection, which revives very simple, unfussy menswear classics from the brand’s archives, like paisley ties, Fair Isle sweaters, and striped Oxford shirts. Fashion critics from GQ to HighSnobeity gave Babenzien higher marks for his styles. There’s hope he may possibly steer J.Crew back to its roots as a purveyor of higher-excellent, cost-effective classics that created it so profitable in the ’80s and ’90s.
Babenzien’s rise coincided with the rise of quick style, which now dominates the sector. Pioneers like H&M and Zara constructed complicated worldwide provide chains in the ’90s, relying on low-wage factories in Asia that could pump out trendy appears at bargain costs. Consumers started to treat their clothing as disposable, and garments are now piling up in landfills at the price of a truckload a second. To compete, brands across the sector, from Old Navy to Urban Outfitters, have felt the require to churn out hundreds of new designs every single season and maintain costs low. Over the previous 5 years, Chinese powerhouse Shein has supercharged the company model, updating its internet site with six,000 new designs every single day, producing $16 billion in income final year.
Many style brands are starting to consider about how to operate sustainably, from building fabric-recycling systems to offsetting carbon emissions. Babenzien is interested in this as properly. He’s utilised Noah as a type of lab to discover sturdy supplies, such as heavyweight Austrian wool and Thornproof-waxed cotton, that are made to withstand years of heavy usage. Noah’s internet site prominently characteristics a fabric directory to clarify the origins and qualities of each and every material. He’s also selected to manufacture solutions in nations with sturdy environmental regulations, which includes Italy, Canada, and Portugal. Babenzien says he desires to bring his ethical-sourcing strategy to J.Crew. (The brand not too long ago has been critiqued by Remake, a nonprofit fighting for a a lot more ethical style sector, for not becoming transparent sufficient about its provide chain.)
But in some methods, Babenzien is a lot more interested in what clothing ought to appear like if we got rid of the quick-style method. He believes that generating a a lot more sustainable apparel brand starts with designing clothing that buyers want to put on season soon after season, with out worry of hunting silly or dated. There are a handful of other designers who have been wrestling with this query. In womenswear, for instance, Eileen Fisher styles loose-fitting garments in neutral colors like black and white that are meant to evolve with a woman’s physique as it adjustments more than the decades. Jerry Lorenzo’s label, Fear of God, released an Eternals collection earlier this year, named soon after its unisex silhouettes in muted colour methods that are meant to “live forever.”
For Babenzien, minimalism is not necessarily the answer. He believes it is achievable to tap into aesthetics that have stood the test of time, at least more than the final handful of decades. This has been a single of his fixations at Supreme and Noah at each brands, he’s obsessed more than generating great-fitting hoodies and T-shirts season soon after season. He now brings the identical strategy to J.Crew. He points out streetwear and preppy menswear are examples of style born in the United States that have stayed constant, even as trends have come and gone. In truth, more than his profession, Babenzien has played a part in weaving these two aesthetics collectively, generating a preppy-streetwear hybrid made to be timeless. “There’s a kind of crossover in that they are both classic American,” he says. “The product is more or less what it’s always been.”
Streetwear has been embracing an evolving new nation-club aesthetic for some time. But this presents an intriguing challenge from a style point of view for a brand as iconic as J.Crew. Babenzien says his purpose is not to stray as well far from the classic garments, so he sees his part as generating pretty modest adjustments or pairing pieces collectively in methods that make them appear fresh once more. From a company point of view, Babenzien believes his job is to maintain sturdy versions of these classics in stock, so buyers can round out their wardrobes or replaces pieces that are worn out. “In menswear, subtlety is a serious variable,” he says. “It comes down to changing the fit of a chino very slightly, or styling it in a new way. I’m not sure I would even call it design: I make adjustments to clothes that have existed for a long time.”
Take Noah’s new fall/winter collection, which drops this week. You uncover conventional men’s pieces that have been remixed in intriguing methods. One appear characteristics blue chino shorts paired with a flannel shirt and a chunky cardigan, along with black moccasins and ankle socks. Another combines a purple hoodie with blue shorts and the surprising addition of shiny leather Oxford footwear. They are pieces several males currently have in their closets. “It’s really about encouraging people to lean into their personal style based on how they choose to put pieces together,” he says.
At J.Crew, Babenzien has an chance to bring this vision to a broader audience. The appears in his most up-to-date collection for the brand are strongly reminiscent of his function for Noah. There’s a blazer created of Irish wool and alpaca with a herringbone pattern that is styled in several distinctive methods, from khakis to jeans. He’s also brought back pieces from the archives, which includes a cotton roll-neck sweater and a rubgy shirt with green, brown, and orange stripes, each of which date back to the 1980s.
One query, nevertheless, is whether or not a substantial firm like J.Crew can thrive in the existing style sector with out encouraging overconsumption. J.Crew has struggled more than the decade partly, professionals say, mainly because it has failed to adapt to altering customer tastes spurred by quick style and social media. For a though, J.Crew abandoned its classic, preppy heritage for a a lot more glamorous appear, engineered by longtime inventive director Janna Lyons. But this style-forward strategy didn’t take off, and sales started to decline in 2014, prompting Lyons to leave her post in 2017. By May 2020, the pandemic triggered sales to plummet additional, causing the currently struggling brand to file for bankruptcy. A handful of months later, J.Crew was capable to exit bankruptcy, thanks to an infusion of capital from investment firms. Now, it appears, the company’s technique is to return to generating excellent fundamentals at costs that are greater than quick style, but reduced than luxury. It’s unclear whether or not this strategy will create sufficient income to maintain institutional investors happy.
By bringing on Babenzien to lead menswear, J.Crew is banking on his prowess for generating classic garments look fresh and cool—which he has mastered at Noah—that will aid bring the brand back to life. But designing for a modest, independent style residence is really distinctive from designing for a substantial firm beholden to investors. And we’ll have to wait and see whether or not Babenzien will be capable to keep correct to his vision of encouraging J.Crew’s buyers to get fewer garments that they can put on for five or ten years.
For his component, Babenzien is optimistic he’ll be capable to. “Really big companies can still do the right thing,” he says. “They just have to choose to do so.”