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The first J.Crew collection from Brendon Babenzien — the streetwear veteran hired by the preppy US retailer last year to re-energise its menswear — is out today with quintessential men’s staples including the barn coat, alongside looser, experimental fits and more contemporary styles, nodding to a more gender-fluid style of dressing. If successful, the collection could play a crucial role in turning the retailer around.
Babenzien is among a growing cast of streetwear veterans taking top roles at mid-market and luxury labels seeking an injection of cool — from Kanye West’s Yeezy Gap partnership to Rhuigi Villaseñor, founder of streetwear brand Rhude at Bally; Nigo at LVMH-owned Kenzo; and Aimé Leon Dore founder Teddy Santis at New Balance’s Made in USA line. For Babenzien, the focus is on fit and inclusivity, while overseeing J.Crew menswear, which currently accounts for 30 per cent of the business and is increasing significantly each year.
“We talked about the core values of the brand [and] we wanted to remind people of what J.Crew has historically been,” Babenzien says on a call from New York ahead of the launch. Unbeknown to many, he has been a customer of J.Crew since the 80s, thanks in part to its “great” shirts and chinos. The new collection will feature those pieces with a twist. “The products that sell incredibly well at the moment are slimmer fit chinos. But, it’s not about leaning into what’s bestselling,” he says. “We’re trying to create a more universal portrayal of what’s authentic for the brand. A single fit isn’t fair to the brand or the consumer.”
Babenzien has also introduced more playful details and categories that haven’t historically been prevalent in mainstream menswear, such as prints, cardigans and hues like salmon pink. It aligns with streetwear’s gradual shift away from graphic logos and slouchy sweats in favour of a preppier, dressier style that includes vests and knit cardigans, as seen at brands such as Aimé Leon Dore, Kith, Awake New York and Fubu. As the mainstream perception of masculinity evolves, thanks to stars like Timothée Chalamet and Harry Styles, male consumers are also growing more comfortable with wearing what may have traditionally been deemed as feminine. “The idea of what men can wear is outdated; we don’t need to think about it as much anymore,” says Babenzien.