At first glance, Supreme and J.Crew seem to have little in common. One is inspired by the gritty skate culture of 90s New York City. Another of his embraces the preppy style that first appeared in Ivy League colleges in the 1910s.
But Brendon Babenzien, who has been defining design at Supreme for more than a decade before taking over J.Crew’s menswear division in 2021, believes there’s a fine line between the two. When both aesthetics work well, it should be both timeless and timeless. “Fashion is about getting people to buy more products by convincing them that what they have no longer matters,” he says. will not participate in [either J.Crew or Supreme]It’s about how cool it is to wear old clothes. “
For 30 years, Babenzien has been a fixture in the American fashion world. He established his design talent as Supreme’s Creative Director, a position he held for nearly two decades. In 2015, he left the streetwear brand to relaunch the preppy menswear brand Noah, which he launched with his wife Estelle in 2002.
J.Crew brought him in last May, a year after declaring bankruptcy. Last month, the brand released Babenzien’s debut his collection. The collection brings back simple, understated menswear classics from the brand’s archives, including his Paisley tie, his Fair Isle sweater and striped Oxford shirt.fashion critic from GQ To highs novelty Babenzien gave his design high marks. There is hope that he may be able to bring his J.Crew back to its roots as a purveyor of quality, affordable classics that were hugely successful in the 80’s and his 90’s.
Babenzien’s rise coincided with the rise of fast fashion, which now dominates the industry. Pioneers such as H&M and Zara built their complex global supply chains in the 90s, relying on low-wage factories in Asia that could pump out fashionable looks at bargain prices. Consumers began to treat clothes as disposable, and clothes are now piling up in landfills at the rate of a truckload per second. To compete, brands across the industry, from Old Navy to Urban Outfitters, have felt the need to mass-produce hundreds of new styles each season and keep prices low. Over the past five years, Chinese giant Shein has enhanced her model of business and updated her website with 6,000 new styles. every daylast year had $16 billion in revenue.
Many fashion brands are starting to think about how to operate sustainably, from developing textile recycling systems to offsetting carbon emissions. Babenzien is also interested in this. He used his Noah as a laboratory of sorts, using heavyweight Austrians such as his wool and his Thornproof wax his cotton, designed to withstand years of heavy use. I researched some material. Noah’s website prominently features his directory of fabrics that describes the origin and quality of each material. He also chose to manufacture his products in countries with strict environmental regulations, such as Italy, Canada and Portugal. Babenzien says he wants to bring his ethical sourcing approach to his J.Crew. (The brand has recently been criticized by His Remake, a nonprofit that fights for a more ethical fashion industry, for not being transparent enough about its supply chain.)
But in some ways Babenzien is more interested in what clothes to wear. look It’s as if the fast fashion system is gone. He believes that creating a more sustainable apparel brand starts with designing clothes that customers want to wear season after season without fear of looking silly or outdated. There are several other designers working on this issue. In womenswear, for example, Eileen Fisher designs loose-fitting garments in neutral colors such as black and white that are meant to evolve with women’s bodies as they change over the decades. Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God label released the Eternal Collection earlier this year. The collection is named after its unisex silhouettes in muted shades, which means “live forever”.
For Babenzien, minimalism isn’t necessarily the answer. He believes it’s possible to harness an aesthetic that has stood the test of time for at least the last few decades, one of his obsessions with Supreme and Noah. With both brands, he’s obsessed with creating perfectly-fitting hoodies and his t-shirts season after season. He now brings the same approach to his J.Crew. He points to streetwear and preppy menswear as examples of American-born style that stays consistent through trends. In fact, throughout his career, Babenzien has been instrumental in weaving together these two aesthetics to create a preppy-streetwear hybrid of timeless design. “There’s a kind of crossover in that they’re both classic Americans,” he says. “Products are more or less the same as ever.”
Streetwear has embraced the evolving new country club aesthetic for some time. However, this presents an interesting challenge from a design perspective for an iconic brand like J.Crew. Babenzien says his goal is not to stray too far from classic clothing. So I see his role as making very small changes or putting pieces together to look fresh. From a business perspective, Babenzien says it’s his job to keep durable versions of these classics in stock so customers can complete their wardrobes or replace worn items. “In menswear, subtlety is the key variable,” he says. “In the end, it’s just a matter of changing the fit of the chinos a little bit, or styling them in a new way.
Let’s take a look at Noah’s new Fall/Winter collection, which will be released this week. You’ll find traditional men’s items remixed in interesting ways. He also wore blue chino shorts with a flannel shirt and chunky cardigan, black moccasins and ankle socks. Another model wears a purple hoodie with blue shorts and shiny leather oxford shoes. Those are pieces that many men already have in their closets. “It’s about encouraging people to lean into their own style based on how they put the pieces together,” he says.
At J.Crew, Babenzien has the opportunity to bring this vision to a wider audience. The look of the brand’s latest collection is strongly reminiscent of his work at Noah. Irish He has herringbone his patterned blazers made of wool and alpaca, styled in a variety of ways, from khakis to jeans. He also brought back items from the archives that date back to the 1980s, including his cotton roll neck sweater and a rubber shirt with green, brown and orange stripes.
But one question is whether a large company like J.Crew can thrive in today’s fashion industry without encouraging overconsumption. Experts say one of the reasons J.Crew has struggled over the last decade is his inability to adapt to changing consumer tastes fueled by fast fashion and social media. For a while, J.Crew abandoned its classic, preppy heritage for a more glamorous look designed by her longtime creative director, Janna Lyons. However, this hipster approach didn’t work and in 2014 sales began to decline and Lyons left her post in 2017. By May 2020, the pandemic had caused sales to plummet further and the already struggling brand filed for bankruptcy. A few months later, a capital injection from an investment firm allowed J.Crew to avoid bankruptcy. Now, the company’s strategy seems to be back to making quality basics at prices higher than fast fashion and lower than luxury. Not sure if it will produce.
By appointing Babenzien as a leader in menswear, J.Crew will help revive the brand with his ability to make the classic garments he mastered at Noah look fresh and cool. But small independent fashion his house designs are completely different from those of the big companies that are being watched over by investors. And we’ll have to see if Babenzien can stay true to his vision of having J.Crew’s customers buy less clothes that will last him five or ten years.
For his part, Babenzien is optimistic that he can. “They have to choose to do so.”