NEW YORK — The world is homogenized today and to make a mark, fledging entrepreneurs should seek to “be a contrarian.”
That was the advice from Millard “Mickey” Drexler, chief executive officer of J. Crew Group Inc., who was the featured speaker at a Makers of American Fashion presentation at Grand Central Terminal Wednesday morning. This was part of a two-day event at the commuter hub for Martha Stewart’s inaugural American Made Awards that celebrated extraordinary artists, artisans and entrepreneurs and the “innovative spirit” still evident in the U.S.
Following an early-morning yoga class, Stewart hosted a panel of American fashion luminaries that also included Calvin Klein, Ralph Rucci and Tory Burch. But she kicked off the discussion with Drexler. “My personal opinion about the world is that it’s homogenized,” he said. Drexler said he just returned from an overseas trip and found the “same look, the same goods and the same brands” everywhere. The “ubiquity” of products throughout the world means nothing is special anymore. “Today, there’s no aspiration because every high school kid has it,” said Drexler.
He said, years ago, brands such as Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein were “always out of reach. Their clothes were always a little more expensive than I thought they should be.” But since he believes “good taste should never cost more,” he said he strives to provide special product at affordable prices at J. Crew.
He urged young people who believe they have a great idea to run with it and, regardless of the difficulty, stay true to their vision. “The best companies in the world are the most focused,” he said. He said he personally loves entrepreneurs and believes their products will find a home. “Customers love the scarcity.”
Klein agreed. “The most important thing is to know what you’re good at,” said Klein. He said when he was starting out, he focused on what he could do that was different. “In any creative field, if it already exists, nobody needs it.” He said he always kept the idea of the American woman in his mind when designing and didn’t think about the press or the money he could make. The same held true for his advertising, which broke new ground with its sensuality. “My intention was not to create controversy,” he said, but to simply “communicate what we stood for.”
Burch, who had no budget when she started out, communicated her message by using the Internet. “We launched e-commerce eight years ago, which was a bit of a risk,” she said, but one that ultimately paid off as customers discovered and embraced the brand. She said she continues to “learn on the job,” and strives to fulfill her customers’ needs.
Rucci said he was influenced by couturiers such as Halston and Balenciaga, and strives to stay fresh by always “remaining open to possibility.”
Klein summed it up this way: “In this business, you must be creative. Think about what they want and need and the business will grow and you’ll make money.”
On Tuesday night, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was on hand to help Stewart kick off the event at Vanderbilt Hall.
“I’ll never know my way around the kitchen like Martha does, but I do know how to get a business off the ground,” said Bloomberg, who joked that when he initially launched his company, his computer terminal crashed two seconds after he started, “but it worked out OK.”
Eleven companies, ranging from fashion and design to food and gardening, were recognized for their American-made products. The evening was cohosted by Stewart and NBC’s Willie Geist, and guests included Klein, Drexler, Thom Browne and Colin Cowie.
Klein, who was checking out the handcrafted goods, said he wanted to encourage new young talent. “It’s a good thing to encourage people to start a small business in the U.S.,” he said.
In his address, Bloomberg said New York City “is on course to create more new jobs than any year on record.” He noted that New York City created nearly 8 percent of jobs in the private sector this year. Since the recession, New York City has gained back two jobs for every job lost.
Honorees were Makie Yahagi of Makie (fashion); Andrew Tarlow, Jed Walentas and Peter Lawrence of the Wythe Hotel (design); Erika Allen of Growing Power Inc. (community); Alisa Toninato of FeLion Studios (crafting); Brett Binford and Chris Lyon of Mudshark Studios (crafting); Jonah Meyer and Tara De Lisio of Sawkille Co. (design), Lena Kwak of Cup4Cup (food); Andy and Mateo Kehler for Cellars at Jasper Hill (food); Flora Grubb for Flora Grubb Gardens (gardening), and Carter Cleveland of Art.sy (technology). The Audience Choice award, presented by Avery, went to Brian Howell of The Bee Man Candle Co. Howell will receive $10,000 to further his business and will be the subject of a feature in the December issue of Martha Stewart Living. In addition to Avery, the event’s sponsors were J.C. Penney, The UPS Store and Toyota.
“My personal philosophy to beauty is paying attention to oneself. I love to be outdoors, lots of fresh air, trying to take care of yourself as best you can. I always notice that comes through,” says Felicity Jones, the global face of @shiseido-owned @cledepeaubeauteus, which launches today. Head to WWD.com to read more about the actress’ love for beauty and how she prepared for her new role in “The Basis of Sex,” playing the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg. #wwdbeauty (📷: @dandoperalski)
For men’s fall 2018, @giuseppezanotti drew on elements from streetwear, sport, biker, combat and rock ‘n’ roll. Pictured here are a pair of shoes from the collection, featuring zippers, rhinestones, and silver hardware. Head to WWD.com to see a roundup of the accessories from Milan’s men’s fall 2018 shows. #wwdfashion (📷: Andrea Delb)
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of @ralphlauren’s snowboarding collection, the brand is mining its archives. The iconic brand is reintroducing vintage styles and dropping new designs for a color capsule that will be available in Ralph Lauren stores and @openingceremony on January 25. The capsule will consist of 10 pieces, including the Snow Beach Pullover, pictured here, which is a collector’s item that rapper Raekwon wore in Wu-Tang Clan’s “Can It Be All So Simple” video. #wwdfashion (📷: Tom Gould)
For @rochasofficial’s pre-fall 2018 collection, creative director Alessandro Dell’Acqua channeled the sophisticated and intriguing Catherine Denevue in the film “Belle de Jour.” Polished collarless coats, midi skirts, suits and ’60s graphic motifs were all featured in the collection, adding a sense of discreet luxury. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion
“We tried to produce clothing of that couture quality, but the most daunting part was that we only had a matter of days [to do it],” said costume designer Lou Eyrich, who recreated Gianni Versace’s iconic looks for @americancrimestoryfx. Eyrich searched online retailers and vintage shops for original pieces from the design house and for @penelopecruzoficial, who plays Donatella Versace. Head to WWD.com to read how she created the Versace world. #wwdfashion
Only three months after her stellar debut catwalk season, @kaiagerber has inked her first big design collaboration –– with @karllagerfeld. The collection blends Lagerfeld’s Parisian chic aesthetic and the model’s signature West Coast casual style via RTW, accessories, footwear and more. The #KarlLagerfeldxKaia collection will launch in September with a series of events. Get all the details on WWD.com. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
Harrods plans to remove the famous statue of Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed from the bottom of the Egyptian escalators and hand it back to Mohamed Al-Fayed. “We are very proud to have played our role in celebrating the lives of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed at Harrods and to have welcomed people from around the world to visit the memorial for the past 20 years,” said Michael Ward, Harrods managing director. “With the announcement of the new official memorial statue to Diana, Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace, we feel that the time is right to return this memorial to Mr. Al Fayed and for the public to be invited to pay their respects at the palace.” More on the news, with reporting by @loreleimarfil, at WWD.com. #wwdnews