A game some of my fashion friends and I like to play is "What Happened to American Apparel?"
That symbol of the aughts' stock is currently trading at just over one dollar, one fifteenth of its 2007 high. And there are a number of reasons why: poor management, spotty trend spotting, over-expansion, lack of investor confidence. Another reason is J. Crew.
American Apparel presented a unique challenge to the market, and while Gap kept making the same old crap and used the same old advertising, J.Crew took a different route and went up-market. It started looking for a more sophisticated customer, constructing tailored, comfortable menswear that didn’t look or feel like each item was just one of hundreds of thousands that had come off the line.
For Spring Summer 2011’s menswear, designer Frank Muytjens draws inspiration from “the paintings of Winslow Homer, and the coast of Maine where he painted.”
J. Crew is no exception to the utilitarian workwear-inspired theme that dominated the fall shows, but Muytjens has done it better than most. “This year we offered a mixture of the utilitarian, the uniform of sailors and deckhands,” the designer said after the presentation on Thursday, at Milk Studios. (The designer also cites the paintings of Cy Twombly, the photographs of Irving Penn, and the Navy as sources of inspiration, for good measure).
A highlight is the very casual, seersucker two-button jacket, with crinkle fabric, a nifty export of a southern tradition brought into an east coast mentality. The collection draws heavily on chalky whites and greys, as well as naval details, for a pleasing effect. A lightweight heather grey cardigan, a cool navy duffel coat, and a sleek navy dinner jacket also stole the show from the dependable array of chinos and trousers (note: more roll-ups are coming your way this spring). There was also a chunky crew-neck sweater, again, navy, that caught my eye—it’s the kind of jumper that could just as easily be thrown on to a recently rescued castaway as the winner of a local regatta.
There’s only the occasional misstep, like Muytjens insistence of adding patches to a number of the shorts and trousers. The worst example is the off-white trousers with the inexplicable rectangular blue patchwork running along the front. Symmetrical, yet different lengths and shades of blue, it’s as if the designer was less inspired by minimalist arti than a shitty game of Tetris.
But this is no reason to give Muytjens and his team Das Boot. J.Crew has a winning collection on its hands. Come spring, you won’t need a trip to the Cape to get that nautical feeling—a trip to the mall may do.