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.
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye