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J. Crew Eyes a Return to Its Glory Days by Betting Big on Streetwear

After a bankruptcy declaration and below-average annual reports, the brand hopes Brendon Babenzien's Supreme-sharpened edge can bring them back.

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Noah / Birdwell

Can consumers count on J. Crew's revival? Executives there are hoping Brendon Babenzien — cofounder of Noah and former Supreme design director — can usher the objectively stale brand back into the spotlight.

On Monday, May 17, Babenzien was named creative director of J.Crew Men’s, and the store announced his first designs would grace shelves by mid-2022. But what can one expect Babenzien to bring to the company — a brand once declared dead, since resuscitated and now hellbent on peddling plain oxfords and stretch chinos on an exhaustive sale cycle?

"I think people can expect us to increase third-party brand relationships alongside relevant collaborations, particularly in outerwear and footwear," Babenzien tells WWD, who broke the news shortly after the WSJ's scoop. "My history is filled with brand partnerships, so naturally, I’ll bring my knowledge and experience with me.

"I will take the same creative approach to partnerships that I’ve pursued for years so I think you can expect to see music, film and even literary collaborations. I don’t think there are necessarily any limits to brands collaborating as long as both parties take an honest approach and genuinely want to work together to create something incredible."

Will brands be authentically eager to collaborate with J. Crew? Maybe not. But with Babenzien? Probably. He's overseen Noah collections done in collaboration with Union, The Cure, Barbour, Vans, Nordstrom's New Concepts, Birdwell, Vaurnet and a bunch more.

In the same interview, Babenzian says he's been a lifelong shopper of J. Crew and sees the entity as quintessentially American. But, we can't help but wonder whether embracing the brand's history will pave the best path moving forward.

J.Crew chief executive Libby Wadle, who joined late last year, seems to be seeking change. In an announcement from J. Crew this morning, both parties promise an emphasis on sustainability and styles that are improved yet straightforward still. “We need to disrupt the business," she told WSJ. However, we'll see what "disrupt" means for a brand that's been out of the loop since the mid-2010s.

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