Benz's career has come full circle, in a way: After graduating from Parsons in 2004, he got his first designer job in the women's department at J.Crew (and under the direction of Jenna Lyons) the following year. Before relaunching Bill Blass, Benz founded a namesake line in 2007, which ran for about eight years. (He even had his own advice column here on Fashionista back in the day.)
Benz's new role will involve a lot of catching up as J.Crew is undergoing some big changes after a slew of major high-level departures, including, most recently, Johanna Uurasjarvi (who stepped down from her role as Chief Design Officer, according to Business of Fashion). She follows ousted CEO James Brett, retired chairman (and former CEO) Mickey Drexler, Lyons, who left the retailer and brand in 2017 after 26 years, and Somsack Sikhounmuong, who headed up various design roles at both J.Crew and Madewell until his resignation in 2017. (Sikhounmuong is currently helping with the relaunch of the label Alex Mill.)
But things are starting to look up for J.Crew since the results of its third fiscal quarter in 2018, which experienced a significant rise in sales after experiencing a decline over the past four years. Still, few people would deny that it's in need of a fresh design perspective, hence the hiring of Benz.
"The company recognized the need for a fresh perspective from someone who understood the importance of the brand's heritage and style to give consumers the designs they have come to expect from the iconic company. Chris Benz’s colorful, distinct aesthetic complements J.Crew’s own," reads a press statement from the company. Of the many recent hires and fires, it said: "These necessary and significant changes are part of the company's efforts to revitalize the J.Crew brand among consumers, while also becoming more productive and more profitable in the process."
Benz has become known for a preppy-with-a-glam-twist sensibility as seen in his work for Bill Blass and his namesake line. Though we most likely won't be seeing Benz's creative take on J.Crew right away — Uurasjarvi's first collection is expected to hit sales floors this fall — it will be interesting to see how he applies that to such an iconic, and commercial, brand.