Jenna Lyons, longtime president and creative director of J.Crew, announced today she is stepping down from the floundering retailer.
Somsack Sikhounmuong, currently J.Crew’s head of women’s design, will take over Lyons’s position, effective immediately. Sikhounmuong formerly helmed design at Madewell, J. Crew’s flourishing sister brand, before joining the J. Crew team to take the spot of ousted Tom Mora. Through executive turmoil and slumping sales, Lyons has remained relatively unscathed. Now she’s stepping down on her own terms, possibly ushering in a new era for the beleaguered brand.
“Jenna Lyons was instrumental in making J.Crew iconic. It’s undoubtedly the end of an era for the brand, but I’m more interested to see what happens next,” said Rachel Krautkremer, insights and strategy director at youth research firm Cassandra.
Widely credited with transforming J.Crew into an American institution, Lyons has worked with the company for 26 years, liaising closely with chief executive officer Millard “Mickey” Drexler. Though her leadership helped the company gain mass acclaim, a lack of innovative design paired with overpriced products that were increasingly veering away from the company’s brand identity have proved detrimental over the years.
Recent efforts to reinvigorate the brand, through introducing an athleisure line and going back to basics, seem to have proved futile. In its earnings report released last month, total revenue across all brands decreased by 3 percent to $2.43 billion — J. Crew alone decreased by 6 percent alone. The poor performance has spurred ongoing rumors that Madewell may be in talks to separate itself from its parent company and is seeking a potential buyer.
“Jenna and I got together, and we both agreed it was time for a change,” Drexler said in an interview with 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.”
Despite Lyons’s vital role in putting J. Crew on the map, members of the fashion world began questioning her longevity. Common practice after several consecutive quarters of poor performance often leads to the removal of the head of design. In J. Crew’s case, the company opted to replace the head of women’s design repeatedly, as New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman noted in a previous column.
“Ms. Lyons’s job is to shape the company’s aesthetic strategy, even if she isn’t responsible for shaping every garment, and no one seems to be even querying her part in all this,” Friedman wrote.
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, several took to Twitter to share their thoughts, which spanned from surprise to support to lambast, indicative of her former brand’s muddled identity.
Jenna Lyons was the downfall of JCREW. Became so self important that she forgot the brand. Bye, Felicia.
— J Parker (@j_jleeparker2) April 3, 2017
Well I hope Jenna Lyons launches her own brand now. I love her style so much.
— BRIANA 🌿 (@briasoboojie) April 3, 2017
Jenna Lyons exits @jcrew after 26 years – but will remain as creative adviser for the rest of the year. Intrigued by what she does next.
— Kate Ormrod (@kate_gdretail) April 3, 2017
Lyons has yet to share her next move, and the impact of a refresh on the executive team remains to be seen. Krautkremer said despite Lyons’s fan following, she anticipates that a new creative director won’t negatively impact the brand.
“If she stays in retail, will fans follow her? Loyalists aside, I’m not convinced they will, not because she isn’t incredible, but because millennials aren’t that motivated by personality-driven fashion,” she said. “The young people we talk to care more about the culture surrounding a brand and how it reflects on them personally than the mastermind behind it. There are some exceptions, Raf Simons being one, but in general, they don’t live and die by creative directors.”
Photo courtesy of Glamour