Young Man/Old Man: J. Press And The York Street Collection

The concept of age was the recurring topic of conversation at the J. Press York Street presentation yesterday. Held at the Yale Club and in conjunction with New York Fashion Week, the event drew a surprisingly large crowd of fashion and media types likely more familiar with York Street’s creative directors — Ariel and Shimon Ovadia — than the bastion of sartorial tradition that is J. Press.

Clothing and perceptions are a funny thing, especially when bumped, jostled and elbowed in the march of time.

Back in the heyday, J. Press was considered a younger brand compared to Brooks Brothers, providing what Denis Black called “a young gentleman’s look.” Then somewhere along the way — for expediency’s sake, let’s call it 1967 — society changed while J. Press largely didn’t. Depending on your point of view, it was either a rock of tradition standing tall amid fickle, changing winds, or a dinosaur languishing in tar pits.

Either way, the result is that its general perception — right or wrong — went from its being young man’s clothing to being old man’s clothing.

The attempt to change that is now fully underway. After several seasons of collaborations, including with Urban Outfitters, and a gradual trickling in of younger-skewing merchandise (I picked up a trim-fit shirt just this week), J. Press’ efforts to attract a customer whose Social Security benefits are far in the future is fully underway with the York Street collection, which will hit retailers in Spring 2013.

While some items will be available in J. Press stores, much of it will be wholesaled to other retailers. Even more surprising, J. Press is planning to open a stand-alone York Street store, according to Takanobu Sugimoto, managing director for J. Press Inc. It’s not yet clear in what city the store will be located.

Denis Black, manager for thirty-odd years of J. Press’ Cambridge store, came down for the event. “In the past J. Press was more innovative than we’ve been lately,” Black told, “and its great to see a return to being innovative for college kids. This is a resurgence of J. Press’ legendary position in the Ivy clothing space.”

While they may have worked with wardrobe building blocks inherited by their fathers, arbiters of the Ivy League Look during the heyday were always the young, Black said, as is the case with most fashions.

But when we say York Street is J. Press’ younger line, exactly how young are we talking? You may be surprised, as it’s not necessarily the college kids of today, despite what the 22-year-old models used for yesterday’s presentation would suggest. It’s actually 25-40 year olds, according to Sugimoto.

The clothing itself followed the same formula we’re all accustomed to when outside designers are brought in to merchandise for a heritage brand. Cuts are slimmer and shorter (jackets are an inch shorter, with a size regular measuring 30 inches down the back, rather than the standard 31), and classics are given a modern fashion twist.

According to Shimon Ovadia, the brothers were approached by Onward Kashiyama with specific instructions for a collection that would be “younger and cooler” but still in keeping with J. Press tradition. When an arrangment was successfully reached, the brothers turned out designs for 300 pieces in two weeks, only a fraction of which was shown at the event.

Heads were scratched last year when J. Press revealed its collaboration with French brand Daniel Cremieux, and with luck York Street is what the brand needs to stay relevant and healthy.

But don’t discount the small but growing number of customers who still see the brand as youthful — just like what gramps wore when he was a student back in the ’50s.

“Our young customers today don’t want to emulate their fathers but their grandfathers,” says Denis Black (pictured above), noting that the standard J. Press collection continues to resonate with a growing number of young men. “They come into the store every day starving for information and culture they can’t find at the mall.” — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

31 Comments on "Young Man/Old Man: J. Press And The York Street Collection"

  1. Gentleman Mac | September 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm |

    It’s good to see Michael Stipe doing some modeling these days. On another note, I don’t mind the overall style, but I cannot get over the association of shorter equals youth. I think that’s a bit ridiculous and will not wear the short stuff.

  2. Seemed like people were pretty critical of Brooks Brothers when they started going more youthful, two to three years ago. It will be interesting to read some of the comments regarding what seems to be a similar move on J. Press’s part.

  3. I agree with Gentleman Mac. I don’t know why youthful must equal ill-fitting, but I guess I am not so young anymore and don’t get it.

  4. some of this isn’t terrible….

  5. Agree with AEV. Taken collective, however, it lives up to its name.

  6. Um…”collectively.”

  7. I don’t see anything I dislike except, the organ grinder’s monkey length of the blazers. What’s up with that? High water blazers to match high water pants?

  8. Fashion industry thinks jackets must be short in order to be “young and cool,” as were the orders with this collection.

    Since it’s apparently actually aimed at 35-40 year olds, a standard length would have been fine, and arguably cooler:

    In my opinion, just narrow the lapels. That’s the only thing that needs to be changed to make standard J. Press a little hipper.

  9. The one model screwed up by smiling.

  10. Richard Meyer | September 10, 2012 at 6:22 pm |

    jackets much too small, rise of trousers much too low. dislike.

  11. “Our young customers today don’t want to emulate their fathers but their grandfathers,” says Denis Black..

    “But when we say York Street is J. Press’ younger line, exactly how young are we talking? You may be surprised, as it’s not necessarily the college kids of today, despite what the 22-year-old models used for yesterday’s presentation would suggest. It’s actually 35-40 year olds, according to Sugimoto.”

    I agree with both of these comments lifted directly from the article.. I am 37, and I aspire to the style that preceded my dad’s generation. I always have, and while I hope to see a more traditional style return to prominence, I lament that I will now blend in and potentially look like I am following the sartorial pendulum.

  12. From today’s (rerun of) Jeopardy: “Dressing men ‘to an Ivy League standard’ has been this company’s goal since 1902.” Category was, of course, “Press Briefing.”

  13. Okay, I’m feeling a little better about the looks shown this week versus last, but I can’t connect with the shorter jackets. To me, it’s fashions way of having something to sell. Pleats out, er, now in, cuffs too, or wait, wide lapels, yeah, thats this years ticket.

  14. Following the advice given in the Monty Python song. “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”, at least no one is wearing a hat indoors in any of these pictures.

  15. Orgastic future | September 10, 2012 at 11:08 pm |

    This is actually very subdued by today’s neo prep standards. They definitely didn’t want to offend some of their standard customers while trying to catch up.

  16. Keep in mind gentlemen Fashion Week in New York is always more costume than substance. Not everything comes to fruition.

  17. Bill Stephenson | September 11, 2012 at 6:09 am |

    May be the “too small jacket thing” is an elaborate marketing ruse. BB Black Fleece and others are the same.

    Think about the life span of quality Ivy clothing. Never goes out of style, and a good 30 year old Harris Tweed from JP can be passed on to a grandson.

    With the new skimpy jackets, the industry can come out with properly cut jackets in a couple of years, and can convince a whole generation that their “two sizes too small” items need to be replaced. A huge market made up of guys that realize how strange their clothes look.

    Could be that this is a part of a bright scam that we aren’t giving them credit for.

  18. If this is what it takes to perpetuate the style with the younger crowd and keeps it alive, I’m all for it, so long as they continue to offer the classics that I want.

  19. Please make this stop.

  20. Those jackets are almost WW2 Eisenhower ETO length. Those guys look like they’re wearing their little brothers Confirmation or Bar Mitsvah clothes.

    They look like I felt when I tried on a $ 9.99 slim fit clearance sale OCBD candy stripe shirt at Macy’s this morning. Totally ridiculous.

  21. Denis Black is a great American. In the spring of 1993 our home was destroyed by a fire – no loss of life, just loss of stuff. About a week and a half later we left for a tour of New England colleges with our high school junior and I walked in J. Press in Cambridge and met Denis. Since I wear a 42XL, there isn’t much on the rack, but Denis scrambled around the J. Press stores and soon had me pretty much reoutfitted – I still wear all thle stuff he sold me. I am really glad to hear he is still at it – I still have his card with a swatch attached to it.

  22. I find the current prevalence of the micro-button-down-collar to be far more distasteful than the shrunken look, which can look good if you’re tall, skinny, and young.

  23. I seriously question how much of what the models are wearing will be available in the store in the size/proportion worn. For example, I like the cut of the pink shirt in the second picture from the top but if I went to J. Press and bought it in a 16.5, which is the size I would need to wear a tie, I doubt it would fit by body that closely and I am north of 190lbs.

    I think there is nothing wrong with wearing clothes FIT and are not a baggy waste of fabric (and I am far from young).

  24. Maybe I’m not on the same wavelength as the rest of my generation, but the phrase “modern fashion twist” equals throwing money down the drain. Short collars, slim lapels, shrunken pants, and conspicuous detailing will be unfashionable in a few years, and who wants to be fashionable when they could be well-dressed instead? If you asked me, all J. Press needed to do was offer their clothing in a broader range of colors.


  25. is it just me or do the models all lack gravitas and look effeminate? They just don’t have dignity despite the clothes they wear…

  26. I’m not blown away, but I am not offended. Give this 27 year old the J. Press essentials. Whatever they need to do to keep the company alive, so be it.

  27. I’ve been trying to find an answer to this:

    When we talk of the Ivy look, the quintessential J. Press sack suit comes to mind: three-button, natural shoulders, etc. And J. Press still very much is along these lines today. What I’ve been wondering about is where does Brooks Brothers enter the picture? For instance, I look at their collection of jackets today, and every few are natural-shouldered or three-button. Is this the new development or has this difference between the two brands always been what distinguished them? Or, well, in other words, was Brooks Brothers ever the conveyor of the Ivy look? Since, as Christian notes in the post, back in the days BB was looked upon by J. Press-wearing college students as old people’s shop.

  28. 1967 certainly sounds like the right date. I left the States in June of 1965 for two years of working in Europe.

    I returned in September of 1967, only to discover that my favorite traditional clothing shops in Philadelphia had disappeared, along with Dunhill’s and several bookshops. All this in two years!

  29. This is better than what was chosen by GQ–I mean, an electric blue, super-slim suit with low-rise trousers? Barf.

    I don’t have a problem with shorter jackets–they look better on me, but can look weird and cartoonish on others. But many of these clothes don’t look J.Press at all–just generic quasi-preppy quasi-trendy shit that can be found at Gant Rugger or Rugby whatever.

    I’d shop at J.Press if they sold exactly what they sell now, but just slightly contemporary–khakis with a great natural rise in wonderful material, but not so wide a leg opening as to puddle around my shoes; a navy blazer in a size 39 that doesn’t fit like a refrigerator box; wide-wale cords without pleats. The clothes themselves are not the problem, but the fit–they seem to have expanded in the 80s and 90s to accommodate middle-aged guts and never contracted. I have yet to try on tailored clothing there that does not make me look like a child in my father’s clothes.

  30. Just this morning the Fall Collection appeared on the website.

    I wouldn’t wear any of the jackets, but I did buy two of the sweaters recently on super-sale. I just sized-up to large. The separate line is a better idea than updating as Press tried with Mark McNairy. I loved many of the McNairy items, but the youngsters likely didn’t come in sufficient numbers. And then there’s this modern-prejudice/contemporary-eye problem that wants everything slimmer/narrower/tighter when that goes against the trim-but-comfortable notion of Ivy — at least the campus version. After all, Ivy was an adaptation of the English rebellion against the tight, restrictive, formal Edwardian Style. And now, we’re back in the same place a century later.

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