We’ve made no great efforts to conceal our enthusiasm for all things Madewell and J.Crew (and the people behind those brands–like Mickey Drexler and Jenna Lyons) here at Fashionista. Look back at my editor’s picks and you’ll find a disproportionate amount of them are from either of those two brands.
But lately I’ve walked into Madewell and felt, sadly, that at 31, I was aging out. I still have classic pieces from Madewell–leather boots, a perfect black lace shift dress, button downs and denim–but in the last season or two I was seeing more trend-driven pieces (animals on sweaters) that I felt too old to invest in. I must not have been the only one because now Madewell is taking action.
The brand has hired a new designer, Somsack Sikhounmuong (a J.Crew alum) to orchestrate a slight revamp. (Sikhounmuong replaces Kin Ying Lee.) They’re calling it Madewell 2.0.
We met with Sikhounmuong for coffee and croissants at new hot spot Lafayette (near J.Crew’s NYC headquarters but more importantly, a Jenna Lyons pick) to discuss his vision for Madewell.
So how did you get to Madewell? What’s your background?
I started at J.Crew 12 years ago as an associate designer of handbags, then I became director of accessories and then I switched over to apparel.
Did you go to design school?
I went to Parsons. I graduated in 1999 and took a job with Diane von Furstenberg for a year, and then I freelanced for a little bit. Then a friend had gotten a call about going to J.Crew for a freelance position, and she didn’t want it, so I went in and met with Jenna and she said, “Okay I have two positions open: accessories or men’s shirts.” I had no experience in either one. And that just speaks to how open they are [at J.Crew], because she said, “You just pick what you want to do,” and I picked accessories. And that’s how I got into accessories, and that’s how I got into J. Crew.
And now you’re at Madewell.
The idea of just changing it a little bit, revamping it a bit, was really exciting. So I was like, “Yeah sure, why not? It sounds sort of amazing.”
What’s your vision for Madewell? What changes do you plan to make?
It’s like Madewell 2.0–taking what’s great about Madewell and capitalizing on that. I think our denim is great, our leather stuff is great, our accessories are great, t-shirts, knits, etc.,-—we’re just giving that a bigger platform. So I think we’re gonna clean things up a bit, hopefully elevate the product a little bit… focus on making things a little more classic-based.
What you’re not gonna see in the store is just as important as what you are gonna see in the store… I think it was getting too trendy, a little more fast-fashion, I think it wasn’t as focused as I would have loved it to be. I think there were a little too many prints going on, a little too many colors, so it’s just paring things down, just focusing on the best things we do, more or less.
Yeah, I was starting to feel like I was aging out of Madewell.
The way it used to be, I’d be hearing stories about girls going into the store with their moms, and only the girls would end up buying stuff, and the moms would just be sitting there. I don’t want to make the line only available to moms, but it’s just like broadening the age range so that a lot more people can get involved in the product.
In the beginning it was sort of classic-based and had great investment sort of pieces, and I think we may have strayed a little bit away from that, so it’s just bringing it back to that.
What do you picture when you picture the Madewell girl/woman?
We were back at the office talking about who the woman was and some things we came up with were: she’s not trendy; she’s effortless; she’s a little more downtown; she’s casual–like her makeup bag would have Chapstick and like an eyeliner; she’s not that fussy; she’s not trendy. She just loves classic things and is drawn inherently to familiar things, you know? Like the sweatshirt we’re offering, the t-shirt–the kind of thing she grew up wearing or saw her mom wearing, or her dad wearing. It’s that kind of familiarity, which is just cool.
And since Sikhounmuong essentially just described us (or the kind of woman we hope to be) we’re pretty excited about the direction he’s taking Madewell in. Click through to see the fall look book to get a sense of Sikhounmuong’s influence–he didn’t design it, but he helped with the merchandising of the line and styled the look book.
Shop the new collection: