NEW YORK — Jenna Lyons, creative director and president of J.Crew, is exiting the company after 26 years.
She and Millard “Mickey” Drexler, chief executive of J.Crew, decided it was time for change. Somsack Sikhounmuong — current head of womenswear and former head of Madewell’s design — will be promoted to chief design officer, effective immediately.
“Jenna and I got together and we both agreed it was time for a change,” Drexler said. “That being said, she’s got plans to do other things. It’s been a great run. There’s a lot of mutual respect between Jenna and me.”
“Somsack and our design teams have a deep understanding of the aesthetic and style our customers rely on us to deliver, with a proven track record of driving creative vision in-line with our brand DNA,” Drexler continued. “We are excited to extend Somsack’s vision across all design categories.”
“It has been beyond my wildest dreams to work with such an amazing team of people at such an incredible brand and alongside Mickey — one of retail’s most talented visionaries,” Lyons said in a statement. “I am excited about the next chapter for J.Crew as well as the opportunity for other creative leaders within the organization to step up and take on new responsibilities. Having spent the better part of my life with J.Crew, I feel an immense pride and love for everyone at the company.”
Lyons joined J.Crew in 1990, earned a bigger role after Drexler joined in 2003, and was promoted to president in 2010, reflecting her influence in design and at the company. She is known for her twist on classic prep-wear and for her own recognizable personal style.
Through their unique partnership, Lyons and Drexler managed to revolutionise J.Crew into a cultural phenomenon, transforming the way a generation of Americans dress with Lyons’s energised, tongue-in-cheek take on classic preppy tropes. Her candy-coloured designs — from the “Bubble” necklace to the “No. 2” pencil skirt — impressed themselves on current fashion in a way rarely seen at the mass level. Furthermore, Lyons became something of a cultural icon in her own right with her statement eyewear, oversize suiting, and sequins for days.
Like many specialty retailers, J.Crew has been squeezed by discount culture — the casualisation of dress and the consumer’s penchant for “fast fashion,” which relies less on one well-defined aesthetic and more on moving trends quickly to the market.
In its 2016 fiscal year, net sales at J.Crew were $2 billion, down six percent from the previous year. Turnaround efforts — including a return to the preppy “basics” that performed so well in the past and diversification into “athleisure” with a collaboration with New Balance — have yet to affect the brand. The company has been somewhat boosted by the growth of Madewell, which saw net sales in 2016 increase fourteen percent to $341.6 million, with comparable sales up five percent.
Lyons’ post-J.Crew plans are not yet known, but the indelible mark she has made in defining American fashion for the past decade cannot go unacknowledged. As for J.Crew, this announcement is expected to be the first in a “series of strategic changes” for the brand.