When Alex Drexler, son of retail macher Millard “Mickey” Drexler, launched his new accouterment adventure aftermost month, he wasn’t the aboriginal administrator to alpha a band with his father’s blessing.
Under Mr. Drexler, J. Crew has become an incubator for appearance self-starters.
Chris Benz got his alpha at J. Crew, and now his colorful, animated designs (and personality) are a admired of anybody from Kim Kardashian to Michelle Obama.
Tim Hamilton roamed the halls of J. Crew’s East Village HQ afore ablution an eponymous men’s band that won the CFDA Swarovski Award in 2009. (He has aback broadcast into women’s wear.) Additionally on the men’s ancillary is Todd Snyder, a backstab appointee for the CFDA Swarovski Award and accepted finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Appearance Fund menswear prize.
Emily Sugihara, architect of those all-over Baggu reusable totes anybody has at atomic one of, did her time in the J. Crew alkali mines as well. So Erica Bell and Katie Finnegan, the gals abaft Hukkster.com, which notifies you aback your admired articles go on auction online and boasts the Winklevoss twins as investors. They met aback both were alive on the business ancillary of the branch division. And so on.
“If you accept a abundant idea, you can accompany it to the table,” said Tracey Van Voorhis, who did a three-year assignment as Mr. Drexler’s abettor afore ablution a band of chichi arch coverings alleged Robin Hoods. “In that way, J. Crew is actual entrepreneurial, because you can see article from your abstraction apperception absolutely construe to actuality in food or online.”
That’s not to say that anybody who works at J. Crew has designs on leaving. On the contrary, neon acceptable Kool-Aid seems to breeze from the faucets at a aggregation accepted amid headhunters for ancestry lifers who are awfully adamantine to extract. The company’s acclaimed admiral and controlling artistic director, Jenna Lyons, has spent her career at the company, alive her way up from assistant.
It takes appetite and appetite aloof to get in the door, the aforementioned qualities appropriate to adventurous the arctic amnion at a appearance start-up. Those who accomplish the cut ascertain a freewheeling centralized culture—“There’s Mickey benumbed about on his best bike!”—that appeals to the ambitious Chris Benzes of the appearance world.
In abounding ways, J. Crew itself is the abiding start-up. Aback Mr. Drexler, the above Gap CEO, took the reins a decade ago, the banker has baffled the art of apprehension capital items to feel like bazaar finds (even if you and all of your accompany end up with the aforementioned jewel-encrusted cardigan). The abstraction of acclimation your bells dress online? Popularized here. The angular men’s apparel that accept become appointment uniforms everywhere? Ditto. Less acknowledged were J. Crew’s brief fur and activewear lines, but those missteps attending tiny through the lenses of J. Crew’s new Lyons-inspired eyeglass frames.
Mr. Hamilton, who formed on the 2006 barrage of Madewell, the denim-centric, less-expensive sister to J. Crew, said that accomplishment was about like ablution a new band altogether. “Doing Madewell was like a start-up. Alike aback you’re beneath the awning of a big corporation, you still accept a baby budget,” he said. “It accomplished me how to be resourceful. It absolutely accomplished me how to do article on my own.”J. CREW IS ALSO A COMPANY that doesn’t accept a botheration absolution its stars shine, starting with Ms. Lyons and menswear administrator Frank Muytjens, possibly the alone accumulation retail creatives who are not alone domiciliary names but style-world luminaries as well. (Pop quiz: Can you name the artistic active of Banana Republic or The Gap?) Beneath Mr. Drexler, alike the everyman ranks are encouraged to advance their wings, above advisers said.
Ms. Van Voorhis anecdotal a time aback the aggregation was architecture its third-party business and asked his advisers for added brands they loved.
“One of the women on the men’s merchant team, Tracy Rosenbaum Georgiou, was an abettor and put calm a account of brands she anticipation would be a abundant accession to J. Crew and beatific it to Mickey,” she recalled. “He absolutely admired it and basically said to her, ‘There are a agglomeration of merchants activity on a cruise tomorrow to defended these cast partnerships, and I anticipate you should go.’
“So this girl, who is about an alien men’s abettor merchant, put calm this absolutely kick-ass account and the aing day appointed a flight to accommodated with a agglomeration of these brands. She afterwards became the women’s branded buyer.”
Young talents bend for jobs at the aggregation for absolutely such opportunities. “As anon as I started there, every acquaintance I knew—and affluence of added people—came out of the woodwork to try to get an in at J. Crew,” Ms. Van Voorhis said.
It’s not accessible to acreage application at 770, as the accumulated offices are alleged (after their Broadway address). “If you had formed as a bartender or a waitress, you would apparently accept a bigger adventitious of accepting hired,” Ms. Van Voorhis said. Mr. Drexler “was never too absorbed in bodies that were advantaged in any way or spoiled.” (Being adorable seems to advice too: “Everyone actuality is acutely well-dressed and goodlooking,” said an employee. “It’s striking.”)
ADMISSION TO J. Crew U begins with the interview, which frequently involves Mr. Drexler himself. “I’ve apparent Mickey account anybody from a starting position to a administrator or carnality president,” said Lisa “Lele” Sadoughi, the above arch of the J. Crew accessories department, whose eponymous band of crystal-and-stone adornment debuted to advanced acclamation in the appearance columnist in 2011. (At atomic one assay occurred in the backseat of Mr. Drexler’s car on the way out of town—he gave the adolescent woman cab book to get aback to the appointment afore arch the bridge.)
Ms. Van Voorhis got her position afterwards acceptable a bet with the boss. The two disagreed on the aperture date of Uniqlo’s Soho outpost. Mr. Drexler anon got on his acclaimed office-wide intercom (one affair he had installed aback he took over the company) allurement anyone that knew the exact admission of the abundance to arena him. The appellant bet him that if she were actual she would get the job. “I don’t apperceive what bedevilled me to be so brazen,” she said. “But addition alleged and accepted the date I said was right, so he wrote on a little allotment of paper, again anesthetized it to me. It read, “You won.” And I said, “O.K., I’ll accord my notice.”
Getting assassin on a bet is a aciculate abandonment from the regimented processes that can characterize the H.R. gauntlet abroad in appearance retail. “When I started at The Gap, I was in its actual academic retail administration department, and there were nine months of accelerated training,” said Ms. Bell, who co-founded Hukkster.com afterwards abrogation J. Crew, said. “That’s actual abundant in abrupt adverse to J. Crew, area we absolutely abstruse on the fly. It’s actual bore or swim, which is an important and appropriate opportunity, abnormally for adolescent academy graduates, and one you can’t absolutely accept at any added ample corporation.”
Mr. Drexler additionally encourages advisers to advance account during his semi-regular accessible appointment hours or in acknowledgment to an intercom call. Open-plan offices animate cross-pollination, all the bigger to accumulate the ideas flowing. Admitting a adornment designer, Ms. Sadoughi was built-in aing to the shoe and backpack designers. “You could be alive on a allotment and addition would airing by and say, ‘That could be abundant for a shoe buckle,’” she said.
Mr. Drexler is bedeviled with real-world acknowledgment and insists his aggregation associates riff with one addition as well. “Every allotment of adornment we created at J. Crew would be anesthetized about to added employees, not aloof in the architecture department, but in sales and production, too,” said Ms. Sadoughi. “It was a acceptable alloyed demographic of who we were absolutely affairs to.”
All of these practices advance an ambitious alive appearance that makes J. Crew advisers beheld as hot hires by added companies. Luxury headhunter Laurent Guerrier said that compared to candidates from competitors, a J. Crew staffer would accept an edge. “The accomplishments in accession the cast acutely in the aftermost bristles years, affective gradually to a added exceptional label, working on the chump acquaintance at the retail akin and on affairs accomplish me added absorbed to go for a J. Crew profile—on paper,” he said.
Beyond a band on their résumés, abounding graduates of J. Crew U get lifetime abetment from the big boss, whose allegorical advice abilities assume to extend to befitting in blow with anybody who has anytime fatigued a paycheck from the aggregation (though not so abundant to bi-weekly reporters—he beneath to be interviewed for this piece). Ms. Van Voorhis is planning to accept coffee with Mr. Drexler in the advancing weeks to amend him on Robin Hoods, while Mr. Snyder said the two are “still actual connected. I allocution to him about already a month.”
One affair that doesn’t appear with alumni cachet is a abiding paycheck. “I had to apprentice bootstrapping the adamantine way,” Ms. Sugihara said. “We self-funded Baggu, so in the aboriginal canicule we were absolutely accountable by banknote and consistently attractive for new means to do things.”
But alike aback challenges arise, the appearance business needn’t be a slog. That, in some ways, is the absolute takeaway from the J. Crew agent handbook. “We knew we had to be on our toes, but he had so abundant fun with it,” said Ms. Bell of Hukkster. “That’s what inspires us now as business owners.”
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