Sometimes an outsider’s perspective is just what’s needed to achieve unique excellence. Frank Muytjens is the Holland-born Head of Men’s Design at J.Crew, a proudly American company. Muytjens, who’s been perhaps the driving factor at the brand since he joined in 2008, finds his ideas nearly everywhere — from a BIC pen to a Japanese furnisher. Of course, this is all grounded by a sturdy affection for Americana. We recently had the chance to chat with him and learned about what he brings to the staple brand, how he refreshes beloved classics, and his penchant for odd numbers.
Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. Buy true to size.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Making the decision to move to NY almost 20 years ago.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. I’m working on illustrations from our new spring ’14 line for Fashion Week purposes, rigging summer ’14 samples for a presentation, and designing fall ’14 with the team.
I used to say that guys don’t like to shop. I don’t think that’s true anymore.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
A. Nature. Spending the weekends in rural upstate New York is priceless, but driving back on Sunday nights and seeing the NYC skyline still never bores — it’s the best of both worlds.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: Vintage finds — because they’re unique — traveling, and movies. It can be anything really; even a BIC pen that I picked up in Tokyo is in the mix. I just found this unbelievable antique printed embroidered scarf made by a Chinese tribe. It is very intricate and became the inspiration for next fall.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. I’m reading about Truck, a furniture company based in Osaka, Japan. I’m obsessed with their furniture. Their attention to detail is astounding, and I just got my hands on their catalogues. Sadly most of it is in Japanese, but the pictures make up for it.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
A. I don’t like even numbers. Flowers in a vase or snacks on a plate all have to be an odd number — preferably 7.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A. I’d throw two racks of ribs on the grill and eat them until there’s nothing left but the bones. They’ll be accompanied by a Dark and Stormy.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. Figure out what you love and make that your job.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. As a kind person.
Q. What do you think is the hardest aspect of designing men’s fashion?
A. Making something true and tested feel new, fresh, and relevant again.
Q. J.Crew in many ways has led the way by collaborating with other brands and highlighting their items. Can you talk about that choice and why it was so important?
A. The process of the choice is that there is no process. We obviously love a good story, and the brands we work with provide that. If you just take Alden and look at their shoe box it looks regal, and it hasn’t changed in ages. It sends you back to a different time. We love taking those brands out of their natural habitat and exposing them in a new way, and you just can’t beat the real thing.
Q. How has your target customer evolved over the years?
A. I used to say that guys don’t like to shop. I don’t think that’s true anymore. A guy wants to know about quality, the background and the story because he is genuinely interested today.
Q. Certain materials seem to be as popular as ever these days — Chambray is a good example. Are there any new materials or fabrics you see gaining popularity now or in the years to come?
A. I think a guy reacts to how a garment feels. It should feel inviting and like he’s had it forever. You don’t want to feel conscious or restricted — the fabric should be functional. We have a great trench coat in the line now, and it’s made out of water-repellent cotton nylon from Olmetex, one of my favorite Italian mills. They specialize in water-repellent and waterproof trench coat fabrics.
Q. Classic is a word often thrown around the menswear world. Buying wardrobe staples that stand the test of time seems to be a rediscovered goal for men in the know. How does J.Crew cater to that buyer? Also, what are some secrets for honoring timeless style without being boring or stale?
A. To us it’s about taking classic menswear items and tweaking them through color, fabric and fit. But it’s also how you put them together. We love patina and distressing, but we also love a cleaner, more modern feel. If you can marry those elements into one look, you’ve created something unexpected. It’s almost like throwing an M65 Army jacket over a suit.
Q. Are there any men’s fashion trends to be avoided these days?
A. Just sloppiness in general.
Q. How does your design process start?
A. It’s an ongoing process. I’m lucky to have tack-able walls in my office, so whatever inspires me goes up there. It grows from there and runs the gamut from vintage Army jackets to vintage Chinese printed scarves or a bolt of dead stock fabric swatches or Edward Weston pictures.
Q. What is the biggest mistake men make when it comes to fit?
A. Guys should buy true to size, especially in suiting.
Q. Is there a particular item of clothing you enjoy designing the most? Suits, shirts?