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 Ivy-Style.com, “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