“We’ve set some ambitious targets to take it well beyond where it’s been. We are ready,” said Millard “Mickey” Drexler, who started reinventing the old New England factory workwear label in 2007 into something young, hip and laid back.
To grow the business and hone the look, Drexler, the chairman and chief executive officer of J. Crew Group Inc., Madewell’s parent, has overhauled the Madewell team, recruiting new design, marketing and merchandising heads, among others. He’s also formed a denim studio to elevate the category and has the staff focused on capitalizing on those products that most resonate with consumers, particularly denim, chambray shirts, “afternoon” dresses, transport totes and leather boots. This week, denim is being relaunched in premium fabrics and new styles and fits, and is beginning to stream into the stores and online.
“I have always been pretty obsessed with denim,” said Drexler, who almost always wears jeans, and felt challenged when he worked at department stores, long before he joined J. Crew 10 years ago, and before his Gap days, where he had to wear suits. Running Gap in the Eighties and Nineties, Drexler blew jeans out and Gap denim became the American uniform. “When I was in college I used to wash my denim in the washing machine to bleach it out,” Drexler said in an interview. “But forget my personal history. After being in business with Madewell for seven years we were thinking how we could be better at what we do, which is what we always do.”
An initial idea fell flat. Drexler approached some well-known denim brands run by friends. “They didn’t want to sell us because of other accounts and the usual politics. Frankly, I was getting a little angry they wouldn’t sell us. But we do everything else that wholesalers or designers do so we thought ‘Why can’t we take on the denim business?’ We didn’t have the in-house expertise. We found out we didn’t know enough about fabric, the technology of fabric, creating the best fits and the best washes. That became critical. So we decided to figure it out ourselves. We felt there wasn’t anyone out there doing denim of the quality-value relationship we are now doing.”
Drexler recruited fabric, technical, production, pattern and fit experts for the denim studio. It’s based in Los Angeles, which he considers “the world capital for jeans.”
Aside from recruiting the team, “My involvement has been really to be the nag — everyday pushing and helping getting it done,” Drexler said. What’s emerged under the Madewell label, he said, is premium denim priced $75 to $100 less than competitors and created with fabrics bought from the same mills. Twelve washes and five fits in the new premium fabric are offered. All washes and treatments are processed by hand so that no two pairs are exactly alike. The jeans are primarily priced $98 to $135. Madewell also offers hand-washed Chimala jeans from Japan, priced from around $350 to $500. Drexler declined to say how much volume denim generates at Madewell, but said it’s a growing percentage and that he hopes to do double the volume for the second half of the year.
Acknowledging that denim is ubiquitous at retail, Drexler said, “There’s a ton of everything out there. The world is oversupplied on everything.” But he added that Madewell jeans “have a degree of stretch, don’t bag out, have a memory and keep their shape. The yarn is made of a stretch core. It’s really soft. It doesn’t pinch the skin. We have perfected the ideal back pocket placement in our opinion.”
Six months ago, Drexler appointed Somsack Sikhounmuong, a Canadian who graduated from Parsons The New School for Design, as Madewell’s head designer, succeeding Kin Ying Lee. Sikhounmuong worked at J. Crew for 11 years before taking a short stint elsewhere and joining Madewell last January. He plans to sharpen the point of view and streamline the collection, which is casual, laid back and rooted in denim and with a tomboy relaxed feel often juxtaposed with a feminine side as well. Said Drexler: “He’s evolving the collection, focusing in on what’s been working really well, denim, chambray and perfecting our iconic pieces — jeans and chambray shirts. But everything is evolving all the time. Look at the stores now. The visual is changing. There is a much more focused point of view on jeans, chambray shirts, boots, women’s woven shirts, a cool assortment of sweaters, accessories and jewelry. It’s really visual. It’s edited.”
Sikhounmuong’s impact on the collection, already felt somewhat, will be stronger for holiday, Drexler said.
Also recently recruited to Madewell are Lisa Greenwald, head of merchandising; Michael Salmon, head of planning and allocation, and Susan Cernek, who is in charge of marketing.
Asked about how Madewell is performing, Drexler replied, “We are very pleased. Madewell is hitting its plans. Becoming profitable has taken us longer than expected. It is now profitable and starting to make an impact with consumers in America.”
While acknowledging the “challenging” economic environment for retailers and “choppy” traffic in the malls, “We are opening a lot of stores,” 17 this year, to be precise, bringing the total to 65 by the end of 2013. Madewell is seen generating more than $180 million in volume this year, market sources said. “Now we are committing capital. Madewell is officially on its way. It definitely has a place and makes a difference for shoppers.…There will be probably 80 to 85 stores by the end of next year. It could be 200 or 300 hundred stores some day, or even more than that.”
Madewell dates back to 1937. Drexler bought the trademark in 2005 and two years later began the reinvention process and leased the name to the J. Crew Group for $1 a year. In 2007, the company became the full owner of Madewell by paying Drexler $240,000 for acquiring and developing the Madewell mark, and then invested millions into growing the business.
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion
Eighty degree temperatures and outdoor installations at the annual Art Basel Miami Beach called for bright, elevated beachwear. See more street style pictures on WWD.com. #theyarewearing #ABMB (📷: @lifeinreverie)
Following September’s emotional tribute to her brother Gianni, Donatella Versace wanted to bring the spring show’s deep sense of intimacy to her @versace_official pre-fall collection. Donatella found inspiration in Versace Palazzo in Milan and from Gianni’s opulent apartment. Archival patterns and new motifs were splashed on silk shirtdresses and fitted jersey frocks. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com. #wwdfashion
Demna Gvasalia continues to shake up the Paris fashion calendar — and experiment with new runway timetables for his @vetements_official brand. WWD has learned that Vetements plans to stage its next coed show for the fall 2018 season on January 19 during Men’s Fashion Week in the French capital. Details about the timing and venue have not been confirmed — stay tuned on WWD.com to catch the latest. #wwdnews (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo)
@zacposen's go-to holiday gift? Cookies! "I'll usually bake cookies and send them as a gift," said the designer, who recently released his cookbook "Cooking With Zac: Recipes from Rustic to Refined." Get the recipe for his Brown Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies via link in bio 🍪🍪🍪 #wwdeye #cookingwithzac
For @monsemaison’s pre-fall 2018 collection, Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim honed in on the brand’s many signatures — men’s wear, which was tweaked and feminized through deconstruction, proportion play and lots of bare shoulders. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)
On Friday night, @yohjiyamamotoofficial received the Design for Asia Lifetime Achievement Award in Hong Kong. The 75-year-old designer has been celebrated for many years and is best known for his dark and avant-garde tailoring. “In my long career, in design, architecture, [I’ve been to] so many parties, this is the very first time that I have such a warm feeling, I really appreciate this,” Yamamoto said. #wwdfashion (📷: @dominiquemaitre)