J.Crew's involvement with the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runs deep. J.Crew Creative Director Jenna Lyons serves as a judge, and each year the Fund winner and runners up go straight to work with Tom Mora, J.Crew's head of women's design, on a collaboration to debut in May. The fifth and latest — with shoe designer Paul Andrew, jewelry designer Eva Fehren and knitwear designer Ryan Roche — is available for pre-order beginning Monday.
The collaboration process begins the day after the Fund winners are announced in early November, says Mora. It's a tight turnaround for J.Crew — the spring collection is already completed by that time, and even the monthly Style Guides (aka spring catalogs) are already photographed. Lyons and Mora meet with each of the designers individually to discuss the guidelines for the collaboration, outlining the process and the fabrics available. Mora says the designers are given quite a bit of freedom: For instance, a shoe designer doesn't necessarily have to do shoes. Once the designers come up with a general theme, they send sketches, which Mora shows to Lyons, who might give some notes. Then Mora gets to work with his team to get everything into production. Once samples are in, Mora meets with each of the designers to fit everything and make final changes.
"The designers get to be very hands on," Mora explains. "It's great because they get to see how a big company works. You can see their excitement." While the designers benefit from working with a well-known retailer, designing for a different customer and making more people aware of their brand, Mora says J.Crew's design team benefits from seeing how other designers work and bringing some uniqueness to the overall offering.
Each time one of these collaborations rolls around, we're always struck by how well the end result balances the designer's aesthetic with J.Crew's, especially given that J.Crew doesn't exactly choose the collaborators (unless you count Lyons's participation in the judging process). Each piece makes sense in a J.Crew store, but still bears the distinct look of the designer. Mora says the designers are encouraged not to stray too far from their usual range because they're young and "only just building their signatures." As for whether that can result in items looking too similar to pieces in a designer's main line, Mora says that "never comes up as an issue" because there's always some tweak and the materials are usually different from the ones the designer typically uses.
All in all, if you're a fan of any of these designers, this is a good opportunity to grab something they designed at comparatively affordable price point. Browse each collection, with price ranges, below. You can pre-order pieces here, or shop online and in stores on June 3.