The fashion industry's never-ending game of designer musical chairs took a surprising turn on Monday, when Business of Fashion reported that Jenna Lyons, J.Crew's creative director and president, is stepping down from her role at the all-American retailer after 26 years. According to a release from the brand, Lyons will continue working with J.Crew as a creative advisor until the end of her contract, which expires in Dec. 2017. After that, according to a 10-K filed on March 21, upon her exit, Lyons is subject to a year-long non-compete agreement in addition to $1 million in cash severance.
Few creative directors of Lyons's generation are so closely associated aesthetically with the companies they work for. Her quirky styling sensibilities, affinity for mixed prints, and ability to seamlessly mix elements of menswear with feminine staples gave the brand's preppy wares a wholly modern, fresh appeal — seen in everything from its catalogs to its well-loved New York Fashion Week presentations. According to BoF, Lyons reportedly had been spending much less time on day-to-day design duties, positioning her as more of a face of J.Crew than a creative director. The Women's Head of Design, Somsack Sikhounmuong — who moved to J.Crew from sister label Madewell in 2015 — will be promoted to the role of chief design officer.
This is only the most recent bummer that J.Crew has faced on the business side in recent months: The retailer posted disappointing earnings results throughout 2016 after years of incremental sales decline, closed dozens of underperforming brick-and-mortar stores, and in November of last year, it discontinued its bridal line. The company also has substantial debt. As for customer feedback, loyal shoppers took to social media to voice their criticism of the brand last year, going so far as to designate the hashtag #ReviveJCrew to their complaints about decline in quality. The loss of Lyons as an inspirational and aspirational woman at the helm is another huge blow, and though Sikhounmuong has proven himself as a worthy successor, he's left with some big shoes to fill.
No word yet on what Lyons's next step will be, but we'll continue to update as more information becomes available.
This post has been updated to include information from J.Crew's 10-K.