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The New J.Crew Is Focused on Collabs. This Is the Brand's Best Yet
J.Crew's new collaboration Tokyo-based Beams Plus is a longstanding goal achieved at last for creative director Brendon Babenzien.
When Brendon Babenzien took over J.Crew, his job was to usher its menswear into the modern era — a task that required bringing back some of what made J.Crew good in the first place, while infusing it with new energy. Not the easiest job, one might say, but the Noah founder and ex-Supreme design director is more equipped than most (hence why he got the job).
His first collection impressed, and it positioned J.Crew as a real player in the menswear space — something the brand hadn't been since the Liquor Store shuttered (but even then it was a little lackluster). The Giant-Fit Chinos were flying off the metaphorical shelf; the sweaters were immediate best-sellers; and the boots made many menswear fans reconsider their relationships with stalwart, storied bootmakers that sell their designs for two times the price. Needless to say, J.Crew had found its identity again.
Next, though, would come collaborations — with indie running brand Tracksmith and now Beams Plus, a spinoff of Beams, a lifestyle brand based in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. Beams Plus sells menswear inspired by eras of American fashion: prep, workwear, military, etc. For Babenzien, this particular collaboration was a longstanding goal.
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"Our own design team has things in hand here and is incredibly talented, but we also really like this idea of reaching out beyond ourselves to see how others either view or have viewed the brand, what they think about, and how they see us," Babenzien told Esquire. "So when we were coming up with lists of people to potentially work with, Beams Plus was at the top of the list. Because basically they're doing historical American clothing. They do a lot of things that are based on prep culture, U.S. military clothing, things like that."
The pieces don't look too left field for the historically conservative brand — one could mistake them for collection of Wallace & Barnes, an in-house line, designs. But the patchwork shirts and patterned cardigans are right up Beams Plus' alley.
"And it's kind of fun because there are certain things I won't touch. I just won't go there because J.Crew, for me, has certain guidelines and guardrails," Babenzien continues. "But when you let someone else touch it, it's from their point of view, so they might be able to take it to a place where you wouldn't. And that's how we were thinking of it with Beams Plus."