J. Crew Could Be In For A New Look After Exit Of Creative Director

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Times are tough for retailers, so stores are trying to shake things up. If, like J. Crew, you’re a clothing retailer that only sells your house brand, the exit of your longtime creative director might be a step toward turning around flagging sales.

J. Crew Group — which includes its namesake brand as well as Madewell — says Creative Director Jenna Lyons is leaving after a total of 26 years with the company. She won’t be replaced, but the current head of Women’s Design, Somsack Sikhounmuong, will be promoted to Chief Design Officer and will take on some of her former responsibilities.

She’ll stay on for the time being as a creative advisor until her contract expires in December, and says she is looking forward to supporting the team “through this natural transition.”

The company’s chief executive says it was a mutual decision for Lyons to walk away.

“Jenna and I got together and we both agreed it was time for a change,” CEO Millard “Mickey” Drexler told Business of Fashion. “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.”

Retailers are under pressure to compete not only with the ease and convenience of e-commerce, but with fellow clothing chains that specialize in “fast fashion,” and have the ability to swap out products quickly as trends change. CNBC notes that as of the end of fiscal 2016, J. Crew has about $1.5 billion in long-term debt.

The writing may have been on the wall for Lyons for some time: Amid another executive shakeup in 2015 that saw Lyons’ second-in-command Tom Mora abruptly leaving the company, the creative director escaped the axe, reported The New York Times then. This, despite the fact that her job was “to shape the company’s aesthetic strategy, even if she isn’t responsible for shaping every garment,” the Times pointed out.

Noting that Lyons didn’t comment on Mora’s exit, the Times’ Vanessa Friedman speculated that there must be a reason for her absence throughout the process.

“That suggests either she is being protected, or she is being hidden, or they still have faith in her, or she is on the line,” wrote Friedman. “It could be any of the above.”

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