Kyle Chayka on fashion biz.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday morning that the utterly omnipresent, cliche clothing brand J. Crew hired Brendon Babenzien as its new creative director for menswear; his new designs will roll out in 2022. Babenzien’s background is the interesting part: he’s the co-founder of the streetwear brand Noah, a cool-kid, niche, scene-y offspring of Supreme (where Babenzien worked) that has found success selling clean-but-not-dull, hype-y hats, t-shirts, and sneakers to dudes who once skateboarded but now work in middle-tier banking.
Noah’s discreet, slightly aloof brick-and-mortar store in Soho has always reminded me. of a Brooks Brothers on Cape Cod: it’s an outgrowth of the native aesthetics of a place, adjacent to kitsch. The brand always felt too predetermined a formula to be truly aspirational or interesting — it was inevitably corporate. Check out the recent lookbook photos below:
It’s like Justin-Bieber preppy, briefly moved to Silverlake vibes, basics with just enough frills, personality but not too much personality. Cheugy? (I don’t know what that means, but its digital semantic satiation seems like the same thing as Noah’s played-out visual vocabulary.) Honestly you might as well buy Uniqlo, because wearing Noah is not going to make you cool.
Ultimately, J. Crew is embracing the streetwear fate of all 21st-century fashion. The company went bankrupt (which it exited last August) and has to reshape its image; on the menswear side, this move seems likely to work — at least until streetwear becomes totally boring, too. I laughed at this line of the Journal article:
Mr. Babenzien’s hire is a sharp turn for J.Crew, which emerged as a retail force in the ’90s for defining the preppy dress code of upper-middle-class Americans.
The truth is that streetwear, including more upscale brands like Noah, now make up the “dress code of upper-middle-class Americans,” so the adoption of Babenzien by J. Crew makes perfect commercial sense, the same way they started producing workout leggings post-Lululemon. Sneakers are the new loafers; a baggy logo tee is the new polo shirt; a jewel-toned cut-and-sewn sweatshirt is the new puffer vest. — By Kyle Chayka