The Groundbreakers: The executives behind key changes at influential companies
Men’s creative director, J.Crew
During his first year as men’s creative director at J.Crew, Brendon Babenzien came to a startling realization: He was having fun.
“I had been doing this job in my head for years, so the opportunity to actually get in there and do it for real felt amazing,” he said. “I enjoy newness and, in a lot of ways, this felt to me, like starting a new business — even though J.Crew has been around for decades. The first year was filled with creative conversations and exciting ideas, all the things I originally got into this business for in the first place.”
Before joining J.Crew in May, Babenzien had made his name outside the world of corporate fashion. He was the creative director of Supreme from 1996-2015, leaving before the company was bought by VF Corporation in 2020, and founded his own brand, Noah, in 2002 — it was making up to $300,000 a month, as of 2020.
J.Crew offers Babenzien a much larger canvas to paint on than he’s had. His first collection for the company, released in July 2022, combined J.Crew’s classic prep style with Babenzien’s street and skate heritage, in the form of giant chinos and leather argyle vests. The giant chinos, in particular, sold out immediately and caused debates among the menswear intelligentsia.
But Babenzien said he’s approached designing for J.Crew in much the same way he has at other brands.
“Obviously, you have to work within an infrastructure that may have different calendar demands and more people to communicate with throughout the organization, but that’s just logistics,” he said. “The design process is exactly the same: You simply set out to make a great product. That can mean different things at different companies, and it can evolve over time. But I’ve always trusted my instincts and drawn from my life’s experiences to help me deliver the right thing at the right time.”
After J.Crew declared bankruptcy in 2020, many wondered about the company’s future and direction. In July, the company announced 16 consecutive months of growth. For Babenzien, his hope is not to transform J.Crew in some radical way, but instead to refine the core appeals that made the brand a household name in the first place.
“J.Crew has such a rich history that I didn’t want to try and change much,” he said. “I do believe we have an opportunity to be the best version of ourselves, though. Once you start to explore what that can mean, it gets really exciting.”
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