Jeff, with Frank Muytjens (head of men's design for J.Crew.)
Clothing is a narrative. A collection of well-placed hints about who you are, where you come from, where you're going. And you? You're someone with places to be. People should be able to know you when you get there.
At least that's how Frank Muytjens sees it. Frank is the head of men's design at J.Crew, where he went after working with Polo. Yet, the Amsterdam native is surprisingly down to earth for being an increasingly recognizable international gentleman in the industry. One of the kindest and most thoughtful heavy-hitters you'll meet.
Muytjens and la presidente, Jenna Lyons, were in the Second City recently to promote both a new men's shop and their fall line. It's a tall order to fly into Chicago to spend less than half a day on Michigan Avenue for a meet-and-greet the many admirers of your work, but no: Frank is as good a listener as he is a thinker.
And it's that kind of careful thought that has allowed the company to reinvent itself into a game-changer. See, the thing about J.Crew is, not so long ago you wouldn't have put it and "classic" next to each other in a sentence. But with Frank and Jenna at the tiller, that's exactly where the company has risen: to a look that's The Great Escape, not Dawson's Creek.
We caught up with Muytjens in the 900 Shops a couple of weeks ago before he and Lyons had to jet back to New York City where, if their current record is any indicator, they'll keep shaking things up.
Midwestyle: You've said before that story is a big motivator for you. How does it influence your creative process? ("It's important that the brands we surround ourselves with tell a story," Muytjens told Esquire last fall.)
Frank Muytjens: Well, you start with an idea.
You craft a story.
You pick a fabric. It's a very organic process. It's the creative struggle. It's always like a fight, but in the best way possible.
MWS: And it's that creative struggle that keeps your attention and enthusiasm.
FM: We're such a well-oiled machine compared to a couple of years ago. We know what fabrics work for us. We still get excited about touching fabrics. It's important to be childlike—to be excited about coming to work every day.
MWS: What about your move toward classic Americana? What are the stories and influences behind that?
FM: It's really all about history. I'm fascinated by what I see in the old movies. Tuxedos from the '30s. Army and Navy uniforms. Workers. The Gold Rush. Those things find their way into our design.
Oh, and here's a quick tip from Frank:
FM: Try denim under a sport coat. It's two basic items, but maybe you didn't think about them together. It's that combination of rugged and formal, vintage and clean. If you mix and match, you get a more modern look, by pairing unexpected things together.
To Frank, Jenna and the rest of the Crew: Thanks for stopping by and incorporating the Midwest into your orbit. Hope to see you here again soon.
Case in point: There goes Cam, being all unexpected again.