Top J.Crew designer leaves amid leadership shake-up

NEW YORK • A top crew member has quit, complicating American fashion retailer J.Crew Group's search for a new look that is tailormade for success.

Chief design officer Somsack Sikhounmuong is leaving the company after 16 years with the Madewell and J.Crew labels, said Ms Margot Fooshee, a spokesman for the company.

"Somsack's current responsibilities, which include oversight of all product design and development, will be transitioned to other members of our very seasoned and talented design team," she added.

The move is the latest in a turbulent summer for the clothing company. New chief executive officer James Brett took the helm from long-time leader Mickey Drexler in July. He is trying to turn around sales after a battle with creditors to push out the maturity on its debt.

The company reported a decline in overall and comparable store sales in its most recent quarterly report.

Mr Sikhounmuong made his mark as design chief of J.Crew's sister brand, Madewell, with chic, cosy basics. He took over J.Crew's womenswear division in 2015 and ascended to the role of chief design officer earlier this year.

He had replaced long-time creative director Jenna Lyons, who stepped down in April, months before the scheduled December expiration of her contract.

Mr Brett, the 48-year-old former president of Williams Sonoma's home-furnishings chain West Elm, has moved quickly to shake up leadership. Last month, the company named Mr Vincent Zanna as its chief financial officer.

J.Crew entered a style crisis around 2015 as it struggled to find its identity somewhere between the affordable preppiness that made it famous and the frilly couture it later sought to adopt.

With customers baulking at higher prices, the label has tempered its high-fashion aspirations amid mounting losses.

J.Crew's total revenue fell 2 per cent to US$560.9 million (S$749 million) last quarter, with sales at the namesake brand dropping 7 per cent to US$443.1 million.

The company will skip showing its upcoming collection at New York's Fashion Week later this month for the first time in six years.

It first showed off its collection at the event in 2011 under Ms Lyons and women's design head Marissa Webb. At the time, Ms Webb called the full runway show a "big step" for the label. In the seasons since, J.Crew has been one of the few massmarket brands to participate in the event.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2017, with the headline 'Top J.Crew designer leaves amid leadership shake-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe