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.
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:
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.