There are few Americans alive whose wardrobes haven’t been, at some point or another, seriously indebted to Mickey Drexler and his keen sense for the fashion business. This is the man who, after all, helped turn Gap from a small, offbeat chain of denim stores into the monolithic mall brand it is today as CEO. After being surprisingly fired from the company in 2002, he quickly turned up in the same position at J. Crew and helped turn that company from a purveyor of safe preppy basics into a retailing powerhouse that helped define American style throughout the Obama years.
Drexler announced today that he will step down from his role as J. Crew’s CEO in news first given to WWD. The move comes as the future of J. Crew seems to be in flux, and just months after Jenna Lyons, the creative yin to Drexler’s business minded yang, stepped down as the company’s creative director and president.
The plan has been in the works for about a year, according to WWD, and Drexler will officially step down in mid-July to be replaced by current West Elm president James Brett.
“It’s a large day for me. I have been running companies for 37 years and the announcement today is a major change in my life,” he told the paper. “I am excited about where the team is and the strategic plans we have. There’s excitement about J. Crew and [sister brand] Madewell — brands that people love and admire.”
The move comes has J. Crew’s future seems to be in some question. Sales have been in decline for the past two years, the company has racked up notable debt, and 150 employees were laid off in April.
J. Crew’s problems are not unique amongst legacy mall brands. Erstwhile competitors like Bebe, The Limited and American Apparel bit the dust this year. Abercrombie & Fitch and both the Gap and its sister brand Banana Republic are navigating their own rocky future and declining sales. All have found it difficult to maintain their footing thanks to the rise of the internet and faster fashion chains. Young millennial consumers often prefer the deals and eclectic offerings proffered by e-tailers and brands like H&M and Zara as opposed to the more focused offerings championed by Drexler during both his time at Gap and J. Crew.
Though, clearly Drexler sees a future for his company (it should be noted he owns about 10 percent of it), and there are other factors at play. The 72-year-old noted he’s been running companies for 37 years and was ready for a change. Notably, Drexler will remain as chairman of the board.
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