The question of whether girly can ever be cool might not be up there with the meaning of life, but it is one that most designers at New York fashion week are debating this season – with potentially very lucrative results.Judging from the pandemonium at J Crew’s presentation on Tuesday, the fashion press is clearly backing the high street retailer to work out this balance.
J Crew, like Banana Republic and – going back a few years, The Gap – is the latest US retailer to get an all-over revamp and an international following. From Wednesday, UK customers will be able to order direct from the company’s website and its recent hiring of a UK-based PR company has sparked rumours that a store may be opening in London.
This revamp has happened under the assured hand of Mickey Drexler, who also rescued The Gap from the doldrums in the 90s. J Crew has, under Drexler, placed a heavy emphasis on prettiness, characterised by sequins and bright colours, and this has brought it some extremely high-profile fans. When Michelle Obama and her daughters wore J Crew to the president’s inauguration, shares in the company leapt 10% and the website crashed. When she was photographed wearing a J Crew pencil skirt in London recently, sales rose 119%.
It is understandable, then, that Drexler and his executive creative director, Jenna Lyons, feel confident enough to give J Crew a lick of cool on top of the prettiness, and the collection at Tuesday’s presentation looked decidedly more artsy Brooklyn than its usual preppy Hamptons style.A mid-calf sequinned skirt (girly) was paired with a denim shirt (cool), while that cliché of prettiness, a sequinned Chanel-style jacket, was matched with casual khaki shorts. Blouses were sloppy rather than prim and the dropped waist evening dresses looked both relaxed and elegant.
The menswear stayed more on the preppy side, with bright coloured knee length shorts worn with chunky knits. The brand’s narrow smart suits are the best bargain on America’s high street for men and are regularly, if secretly, worn to red carpet events by American male fashion editors.On Monday night, Marc Jacobs showed his diffusion line, which suggested he is also attempting to balance girliness and cool. This label has long taken inspiration from trendy teenagers, but for next season, with its plain shift dresses, high-waisted slacks and coloured wedge heels, it looked more aimed at chic 20-somethings – and both cooler and prettier as a result. – guardian