J.Crew Doesn't Need A Fancy Logo, Here's Why

Photo: Courtesy of J.Crew.
It’s okay to admit it: You’re fascinated with J.Crew. The one-time catalog brand is a fashion label like no other. It exists in malls across America, supplying women with endless closet staples. It appears at New York Fashion Week with its own take on playful power dressing — one that’s quirky, tailored, and unafraid to mix and (mis)match. The brand's core aesthetic becomes incredibly obvious the moment you lay eyes on Jenna Lyons. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And, Tom Mora, head of women’s design, has helped us to understand what's going on with the rest of the behemoth.
Mora — who's held his prestigious position since 2011 — is a huge part of the household brand. He not only maintains the level of quality and timelessness that it's known for, but he's also part of the team pushing J.Crew into the future. Sometimes that means collaborating with daring, emerging brands such as Sophia Webster, and sometimes it means passing on trends that are simply not a part of the J.Crew identity. However, if there was just one thing we appreciate most about Mora's approach to style, it's his "never say never" mentality. And, with that, he addresses those recent Mickey Drexler activewear rumors, the return of in-your-face logos, and even Drunk J.Crew (well, sorta).
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Tell me a little bit about this new round of collaborations with Sophia Webster and what’s most exciting about it.
“When we started this collaboration, Jenna [Lyons] was a fan of [Sophia Webster's] shoes and we reached out to her, and she was so excited to do this collaboration. She was a big fan of J.Crew’s. These shoes are really fantastic. They’re incredibly detailed, they’re feminine, and the price point for a designer shoe is actually a nice price point. All those things were really attractive to us in a collaboration. Her sensibility is maybe quirkier than ours, but she has a love for color, she has a love for pattern mixing, and, like I said, femininity — all those things we love as well. It was a nice complement to what we do.”
How do you know when a collaboration is going to be really successful? How do you determine what collaborations will work really well?
“The thing with collaborations is, we look for things or people or brands that do things that we don’t do. Of course, we do shoes. And, of course, we do outerwear. But, when we do Barbour or when we do Sperry [collaborations], we don’t do those specific things. And, why not get the real thing, rather than doing something that looks like it or functions like it? We have the ability to work with these people and get the real authentic [product], so I think it’s always our goal."
How do you come up with these new collaborations?
“People reach out all the time wanting to do collaborations, so you have to weed through a lot. There’s good things, and then there are things that are not right for us as a brand. I appreciate, and I feel very humbled by the fact that so many people want to work for us."
Have you ever received requests from customers themselves?
“A lot of customers ask for styles from J.Crew that we’ve either stopped running, or [are] just online, but not too often about a collaboration.”
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Recently, we heard Mickey Drexler say in an interview with Bloomberg TV that J.Crew probably won’t ever do athletic wear — despite the recent popularity of athleisure wear. So, speaking to that, where do you see J.Crew expanding? What new products do you see creating that might challenge customers’ aesthetic a little bit more, but also really resonate with the core audience as well?
“We work in fashion, and you can never say like 100% never. And, I don’t think that he was saying that 100%. It’s not something that we’re experts in, so it’s about going to the experts. We have had some athletic wear that we’ve sold through a third party, so that’s where we are right now with that. What we’re doing as a company is we’re looking within our own brand and seeing things that we can say we haven’t really gone for yet — whether it be outerwear or whatever it is — that we can actually focus on and make even greater and more dynamic for the customer. It’s really about us looking inward rather than outward.”
Definitely. Can you give me a couple examples from the upcoming holiday collection and spring collection that are examples of these challenging new products?
“I wouldn’t say that they’re challenges. I just think that it’s really about pushing the customer. [For instance,] we love embroidery and beading, but we don’t ever want to do the same thing over and over again, so it’s like, ‘how do we take that and make it feel new?’ Sometimes we’ll repeat it because it’s beautiful, and we’ll just do it in a new color. But, it’s also pushing it, like we have a beautiful top that has these plexiglass pieces with faceted, pronged stones in it and we’ve never done anything like that before and it resonated really well with the customers. It’s like a new way to do something that we do really well, so things like that feel really new for us.”
There’s recently been a huge resurgence of really conspicuous branding on brands — whether it be Alex Wang or DKNY. For a company like J.Crew, that has to do a strong, definitive identity, do you ever see that being part of the persona going forward?
“I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s who we are. I think it’s one of those things where we want to be the guy who’s really worrying about the make, the fit, and the quality and letting a customer actually know that they can buy something that they’re gonna have for a really long time and something that’s really going to endure the test of time. But, having a logo all over yourself isn’t really going to make it any better. I think that the clothes stand for themselves. I think that you can walk down the streets of New York City or many cities in the country and point out, ‘that’s J.Crew,’ ‘that’s J.Crew,’ and that’s the amazing thing. We don’t have to put a label on things for you to know that that’s J.Crew, and that’s really special.”
Within your specific position in the company, what do you find to be your biggest challenges and also the most exciting parts about maintaining such a strong brand identity and also creating new collections at the same time?
“I think it’s just feeling like you’re doing something that feels new, or doing something that you’re excited about, or challenging the customer. It’s also about challenging yourselves as designers. We’re never going to be avant-garde. We’re never going to be edgy designers. And, that’s okay. There are people who do that incredibly well, and I admire those designers. But, we really focus on a certain quality, on a certain integrity, on a certain style in our clothes, and I think it’s pushing those parameters which is even harder than doing like a three-legged pant. I wouldn’t [call it] ‘classic,’ because I don’t ever want to put us in that category of classic. Season after season you just tweak it a little bit — the pants a little floral, the rise is a little longer, that jacket is a little longer — all those special details that we put into the clothes. It’s all about those little shifts in fashion for us, not about a monumental, ‘oh my god, that looks completely different.’
"What’s great is that you can take that piece that’s new and exciting, and put it with something that you have from J.Crew, and it goes together. It’s not like 'oh great, I have to go get a whole new look now because they’ve decided to do really long jackets.' You basically want to take that and bring [the customers] along on your journey.”
Okay, last question: Have you seen Drunk J.Crew?
“Well, I don’t live under a rock, so yes, I’ve seen it. And, that’s all I’m gonna say about that.”
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