The Future Of The Past

I have been spending some time with J. Crew lately, following the new Creative Director Brendon Babenzian, who is taking his turn at reviving a brand with updated Ivy.   I note that the companies who never stepped off Ivy in the first place also never needed to revive anything with updated anything.  Still, Babenzian seems to have a direction that might make sense.

The wrong direction has become cliche’.  First, you keep the basic design, but mess with the pallate.  So you get florescent rugby shirts.  I would imagine in the pitch meetings for these rugby shirts some innocent designer referenced GTH pants and make the argument for the precedent of vivid colors.  That, my friends, is what happens when you do not study history or take the time to understand the values.

When that doesn’t sell, you change the models who are wearing it.  You try to make your florescent rugby shirt more Everyman by shooting a 16 year old on a city block in it.  Which just makes the stupid shirt stupider.

When that doesn’t sell, you start hybridding (I know that’s not a word) things up – mixing a tweed jacket with Nantucket Red shorts and penny loafers.  In that pitch meeting the designer says, “Don’t you get it?  We are offering the traditional tweed to the traditional audience AT THE SAME TIME we are showcasing it for a new audience!”  But what you are really doing is turning both audiences off.

There have been wildly successful ventures in this department, though.  Press/Snyder comes to mind.  How did they do it, and what is Babenzian doing right?

The list of top three Most-Ivy movies of all time has to include Dead Poets, right?  That film is a cautionary tale to the fashion industry.  The boys in front of the trophy case hearing whispers from the past, with the right message:  Live In The Now.   Whispers from the past saying live in the now.  But the mistake the boys made was looking like they were listening but not really listening.  And after looking like they were listening, they tried to improve upon that which they did not fully understand.

 

This is great of course, and you can click on it to see the clip. BUT. The greatest line in all of movies belongs to Keanu Reeves in The Replacements. “Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever.”

The reason Press/Snyder worked is because Press fully understands.  It appears Babenzian does as well.

Here is a review of J. Crew’s Giant Fit Chinos.  While they are not for me, they are definitely for the reviewer, and they look great on the models.  When one reaches a certain age with certain responsibilities one realizes that one cannot comport themselves in the same manner as their teenage daughter’s friends.  But it would be great if their teenage daughter’s friends wore these.

The Giant-fit Chino is a good case study.  Here it is, from their website:

 

Click on the image to see the pants featured on Crew’s site. But before you do… they get some things very right here, right? This particular model is embroidered with canoes. Now look, who really goes canoeing? Still, it is in the Ivy language at least. The fit, again, not my jam but it does look great on him. The cuffs. Cuffs! And leather loafers. If we can get the Crew crowd wearing this stuff they are gonna start wandering into Andover’s too.

 

We have already pulled some photos from the new Fall lookbook, you can check more of that out here.  But as you go through either my piece or the Crew site, notice the fit (relaxed), the fabric (organic), the presentation (none of the clothes look like they are being worn for the first time), the comeback of the tie (I frigging called that).

So, congratulations.   Your appreciation of the value of the classics has just been affirmed.  Brands taking in Ivy like it is a B-12 shot proves that you were right to be an Ivy fan all along.  Abercrombie.  Crew.  Etc.  They have hired teams who are starting to get it – this style just looks better on people.

Now, find the balance.  Start by doing the homework.  Then, to a little bit afield.  Not too much.  Enough so that you aren’t digitally scanning the 50’s, not so much that you can feel the discount outlet rack just by looking at the product.

It is going to be interesting to see how reinvigorated Ivy continues to be interpreted.   And it is a shame that Brooks isn’t doing it.

JB

32 Comments on "The Future Of The Past"

  1. It’s nice to see things moving in the right direction. The students at my school have a required coat-and-tie uniform, and many are still leaning to the overly tight/small fits of the past 15 years; however, I’m starting to see a few relaxed fits here and there being worn by those who consider themselves a little more forward thinking than their peers.

    Speaking of, I’m currently sitting in my office at St. Andrew’s looking into the same atrium featured in the screenshot above from Dead Poet’s Society. I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by beauty and inspiration every day.

  2. Oxford Cloth Button Down | September 7, 2022 at 2:56 pm | Reply

    I have posted several comments lately (Well, 2). They never seem to post. The last was about the 2-button sacks currently over at Jcrew.

    • I’m assuming this won’t post but I’m having this trouble too! Posted fine a week ago. Now my comments are being moderated.

    • Having the same problem over here. I just posted another comment downthread that is currently in “moderation.”

    • There is nothing pending but if you email me with your comment I will see to it. Thx.

      • That’s curious. I definitely posted another standalone comment about 15 minutes ago and got the “your comment is in moderation” type message. Unfortunately, I didn’t save it so unable to resend.

    • Please share more about the sack jackets! I didn’t see any on my quick perusal of their site.

      • Oxford Cloth Button Down | September 8, 2022 at 5:53 pm | Reply

        AuH20,

        There is a camel hair, a corduroy, and two tweed 2-button sack sport coats. Lots of patch pockets(even a few chest), some swelled edges, but not a lot of length lol. Google Oxford Cloth Button Down Instagram and you should be able to find my recent post about them.

    • I still go canoeing. Unfortunately I don’t have the time for a sailboat.

      J. Crew gives me the warm and fuzzies. A feeling of nostalgia from younger years. I’m glad they’re offering a clean wardrobe for the youth of today. A stepping stone towards Adulthood. Maybe future bosses will start wearing ties and jackets again.

  3. Hey, OCBD,
    You must be referring to the Kenmare. The camel hair looks like 2 or 3 steps in the right direction for a younger guy. I’m surprised.
    Miss your blog.

  4. Charlottesville | September 7, 2022 at 3:47 pm | Reply

    I have been waiting for the reaction to the tight, skinny clothing of the past decade or more and am glad to see that it is finally starting, As with JB, it is not for me, but better than what has been the norm for far too long. And thanks to RWK for confirming it with some real-world sightings.

    The WSJ recently had a brief article on the new full-cut khakis, with a picture of a pair from J. Crew (sans canoes). Another site recently linked to a Robb Report article indicating that a traditional clothing (blazers, Shetland-wool sweaters, penny loafers, OCBDs) was gaining momentum in Manhattan, even in the clubs.

    I recall the baggy, oversized suits and sport coats and puddling trousers of the late 80s and 90s with a shudder, and note that Thom Browne’s Pee Wee Herman look was in turn a reaction to that. Perhaps, as JB says, it will move toward finding the proper balance between too baggy and too skinny, too short and too long. That is the difference between fashion trends and classic style, but every once in a while they seem to meet. Perhaps the young men starting with J. Crew will eventually discover J. Press.

    Oxford Cloth Button Down – It is good to hear from you. Some of my comments seem to have gotten caught in “moderation” limbo as well, but they have shown up eventually, as I hope this one will.

  5. The Giant-Fit Chino is not a nod back to the “Ivy” heyday of the 50s or early 60s, but to the J.Crew brand’s heyday: the 90s.

    By 90s standards that fit is far from “giant”.

  6. “The wrong direction has become cliche’. First, you keep the basic design, but mess with the pallate. So you get florescent rugby shirts. I would imagine in the pitch meetings for these rugby shirts some innocent designer referenced GTH pants and make the argument for the precedent of vivid colors. That, my friends, is what happens when you do not study history or take the time to understand the values.”

    I’m not sure it’s worth the time or effort trying to contradict this imaginary scenario but I think it’s reasonable to assume that Brendon and the folks at J.Crew generally know what they’re doing given their sales rebound over the past year, as well as the fact that this new collection has largely been well received, so I’ll focus on the latter part…

    The idea that “Ivy style” or clothing has any inherent “values” runs counter to not only common sense but also history. The history of the Ivy League, where this style is said to have originated, is one of bigotry and exclusion, in addition to excellence. Almost all of the schools were connected to the slave trade at some point of their history, and the overwhelming majority didn’t admit women until the 1960s or ’70s. These were “fine” and “upstanding” people using their power and privilege in ways that were, at times, truly awful.

    History is also littered with abominable people who dressed the part. And on a personal note, some of the most amoral and self-centered people I’ve ever had the misfortunate of meeting have dressed in Ivy, Trad and Preppy outfits. This is not to pick on Ivy style folks, as I am someone who likes it myself, but it is a mistake to assume that there are values inherently attached to these choices. Wearing these clothes might be evidence that someone values quality clothing, tradition, etc. That’s fine. But it might mean they’re a con artist trying to scam people by “looking the part.” To put it in terms most of us learned in school – Don’t judge a book by its cover.

  7. I just noticed the Alden-for-J. Crew penny loafers are going for $839. Wow. I’m remembering when, not so long ago, that shoe (Alden 986, shell cordovan LHS Hoc) was around $500. The times, they are-a-changin’….

    • Charlottesville | September 8, 2022 at 9:32 am | Reply

      Wow indeed. I am glad that I bought my shell cordovan shoes (some Alden for Brooks and a pair of long wings from Allen Edmonds) a decade or more ago and that they tend to last forever. That being said, though, I am glad they are still making them.

  8. 20 1/2” at the hem. That’s too big; an overreaction. Between 17” with loafers, and 18 1/2” with gunboats is the sweet spot for most guys, taking height and shoe size into account. Very little to no break.

    Look, guys, they are going to sell clothes no matter what they do, because, for now at least, public nakedness is still not socially acceptable, so they’re going to entertain themselves in the process.

  9. I predicted, a couple weeks ago, right here at I-S, $1K for shell cordovan LWBs this time around.

  10. Are Thomas, Chris, and Carlton the same person? Or are the three of them just badly in need of a hobby?

  11. Okay I’m lost

    • Charlottesville | September 8, 2022 at 9:35 am | Reply

      I didn’t see them, but I heard from a friend that some nasty comments had been made and removed. I assume that is what Nevada and John are talking about and I am thankful for that kind of moderation.

  12. Apropos of nothing, I wore and enjoyed the new navy plaid sports jacket purchased in August for the first time today after the usual minor alterations at the tailor. “A delight, Bannister, a delight” — Frederick Larrabee to Howard Bannister in What’s Up Doc (1972).

    Non sequiturially,

    H-U

  13. Either Bills no longer makes its OG ‘giant-fit’ chino or production is drastically limited. Very few men’s shops still carry the M1 in a decent range of sizes. And Hansen’s has given up on its F1. Thank God for Jack Donnelly. As for J. Crew’s GFCs, younguns could and do wear much worse. Babenzien’s other company, NOAH, is far more expensive but very similar to the ‘new’ J. Crew mens. Even overpriced, superficially tweaked basics still look pretty good.

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