Behind the Seams: A Short Story

an exclusive look at how one of our favorite men’s
designs, vintage tent shorts, comes together
Our vintage tent shorts are constructed of sturdy weathered canvas from actual 1940s-era tents. Once we receive the designs, we give them our stamp of approval (literally).
(from top left)

Our graphics guru, Tito, designs each stamp in-house, then takes them to be custom-made in the East Village, just steps from our office.

One by one, the shorts are hand marked by one of our men’s designers.

A close-up of the interior pocket after being stamped—we also number each style in the limited-edition collections.

The finished product.

Behind the Designs: Soludos

Nick Brown, the mastermind behind Soludos®, gives us a peek at some of
his design inspirations (we’re dreaming of colorful cars, warm-weather
destinations and Mediterranean markets)
“I love this picture of Copacabana Beach in the ’70s—few do summer better than the Cariocas (natives of Rio de Janeiro). The classic colors of the Volkswagen Bugs here really impacted my collection for J.Crew—I don’t think anyone should ever shy away from a pop of color in the summertime.”
“I took the above snap with a few friends in Montauk a couple of summers ago. It always takes me back to long, spontaneous beach weekends…There’s an understated but cool style to this place in particular.”
“Here are some old photos of espadrilles being made by artisans in Barcelona—these authentic styles are the ones that inspired me to start Soludos. We’ve updated them slightly by using more contemporary cuts and fabrics.”

Behind the Seams: How to Make a Prints Charming

we asked our in-house print master,
David, to walk us through how he makes
his perfectly pretty patterns
A print is born: The prints usually start out as actual drawings or paintings that vary in size from large canvases to tiny little laser-cut wood panels. We turn them into digital files, send them off and they return to us in the form of lovely fabric. We also design plenty of plaids and stripes, which are done completely on the computer, but the art-based prints are really intricate and fun.

Hands on: I always prefer working on physical objects, like paintings. I love bumping around in my studio, not having exact ideas as to how things will look, what mediums I’ll use, etc. The paint itself has a randomness that you can’t get on a computer, but there are some obvious advantages to working digitally; for example, it is way easier to create a repeated image on a computer than it is to paint it into an actual piece of artwork. And, of course, it’s always nice to have an undo button.
Keeping it simple: The more complex I make things, the more difficult they are to turn into a workable, printable pattern. The director of the textile design department is the best at doing the more complex digital side of this. There have certainly been times when I’m in my studio working and thinking to myself, “Man, he is going to hate me when I bring these paintings in.” It can be a pain but sometimes it’s the price you have to pay to make a great print!
An artist’s life: My background is as a painter and a fine artist, so I grew up painting a lot of vegetation and landscapes. When I paint for J.Crew, I’m usually inspired by the vintage fabrics they source, which are pretty amazing. I talk a lot with the designers, so I’m often inspired by what they are looking at as well, and then make new artwork based on those things. Honestly, inspiration is everywhere—I just have to keep my eyes open for it.

shop all our accessories

Behind the Seams: Belt It Out

a firsthand look at how our beloved belts are made,
courtesy of our accessories guru, Liv
Buckle up: Circa is the name of the factory where most of our belts are made—it’s located in San Francisco and has been around since 1967. It operates like a family-owned business, and most of the workers have been there for years. They’re all very hands-on, which is quite lovely to see—I was lucky enough to go out there in September to witness all of the inner workings.

1. Whirl around: This is a tumbling drum, used to give the belts an aged or vintage look. Belts can go around and around on these machines for up to 120 minutes, depending on how worn we want them to appear. The drum pictured here is actually about 60 years old; Circa purchased it a decade or so ago at an auction in Italy.

2. To die for: The die shop is where all of the belt designs start to take shape—literally! “Die” refers to the metal stencil cutters, which are used to create the patterns and shapes for each of our belts (especially a perforated or cutout design), and every die that Circa uses is made out of recycled metals. The two guys in charge of this process at Circa, Porforio and Julien, have been at the factory for over a quarter of a century.

3. Leather library: This is just a small snapshot of some of the fun, bright leathers that I discovered while at Circa.

4. Sew perfect: Keow Tan has been sewing Circa’s samples by hand for over 35 years! Watching her work in person made me really appreciate the detail that goes into making one little belt.

Check out all of our belts at

Behind the Seams: Knit Trip

we talked to a couple of our in-house sweater experts,
Andrea and Natalie, to get the inside scoop on the
design team’s most recent journey to Florence, Italy,
for Pitti Filati—the world’s largest yarn show
Showstopper: Pitti Filati is like the Oscars of yarn shows. Top designers from around the world flock here each year, and the things we see are important indicators of what the season’s biggest sweater trends will be, especially in terms of color and material.

What’s hot: Texture is especially big this season and it’s being achieved by mixing wool with a variety of other yarns, particularly alpaca and mohair. Bright colors were also everywhere, which we love to see since color is so close to our hearts.

Special treatments: There are always one or two unique yarn treatments that stand out to us during the show. This year, many of the pieces we saw had a shiny or metallic effect to them, but I think the most exceptional treatment we came across was burnout. Imagine a normal knit sweater that has then been carefully eroded in certain places, creating a pattern out of the fabric instead of the color. It makes such a statement!

From Florence, with love: The fact that the show takes place in Florence is an added bonus for us. It’s so beautiful and inspiring there, and when we aren’t working, our team manages to squeeze in one or two special cultural outings. We usually stay in the center of the city—right near the Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio—and this past trip, we were able to attend the art exhibition Picasso, Miró, Dalí, which was just steps from our hotel. It was such a treat! We also eat—a lot. We go to this one restaurant, La Giostra, every year; they have the most incredible white truffle pasta—it’s so good that I actually find myself dreaming about it.

Scrap board: This is how we compile our favorite yarns after each visit to Pitti Filati. Once we pin everything to a board, we can then get inspired and select swatches as needed when designing our fall and winter collections.

Check out all our sweaters on

Behind the Seams: All Buttoned Up

we talked to our trimmings expert, Danielle,
to get the backstory on our beautiful buttons
The process: Our designers bring me their inspiration (usually vintage buttons) and I study their markings and materials to determine which details we can incorporate into our own designs. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I can usually figure out right off the bat which manufacturers will be able to put a modern spin on the look we’re going for.

A great resource: Waterbury is among the oldest—if not the oldest—button companies around; they’re actually able to reproduce one-of-a-kind designs they made back in the 1800s, which is pretty amazing. The pieces start out as sheets of brass that are then tooled and molded into the company’s signature items. We use their buttons on all of our peacoats (and the U.S. military just happens to use them for their uniforms too). And, funnily enough, Waterbury is also one of the largest manufacturers of jingle bells. (How’s that for seasonally appropriate?)

Objects of desire: Along with Waterbury’s brass, one of the other materials I love is Corozo. It comes from the tagua nut, which grows in South America (the kind we use comes from Ecuador). It’s typically called vegetable ivory because it looks just like the real thing except it’s more durable, not to mention animal friendly, which we love. And even though the natural finish is beautiful on its own, it also holds other colors wonderfully.

Favorite haunts: I collect buttons myself, and some of my go-to spots around the area are Junk and Jems in Connecticut and various flea markets in upstate New York. Tender Buttons in New York City also has tons of unique options made of everything from glass to horn. They let you buy by the button instead of having to buy in bulk, which is great for mixing and matching buttons on a jacket or a cardigan.

Cover Story

the inspiration behind our
DODOcase™ for J.Crew iPad covers
To help DODOcase™ create custom book-alike covers for iPad 2 and Kindle just for us, our men’s design team took a field trip to our neighborhood book shop for ideas. After scouring the shelves, dusting off covers and engaging in lots of highbrow literary discourse, they found the perfect vintage tomes to use as inspiration and sent them across the country to DODOcase headquarters in San Francisco.

See the finished DODOcases.

Tee Tales

Erin, the designer of our whimsical,
totally cool kids’ graphic tees, gives us
a look behind the design
Her inspiration: I love old designs from the past—whether it’s children’s books, posters or sports memorabilia. Design was more like art then—done by hand, not computer generated. It had more soul. I’ve also based designs on everything from hieroglyphics to the insignia on a piece of china.
Plus, having a son is a great resource—I love checking out what the kids are wearing when I drop him off at school. And I’m always asking his friends: “What are some of your favorite animals?” “What kinds of things do you like to do?”

Like mother, like son: I once based a girls’ tee on a painting my son made when he was 3½! It was a dot painting—very minimal, with an interesting use of color and layout. One day I was looking at it and there it was: the stamped happy-face design. Thanks, Ray!

One-of-a-kind designs: I try to add a new spin or a quirky twist to every design, whether it’s through word play, an obscure sport or the use of color. Every design is an original. With the girls’ graphics, I’ll sometimes add a tomboy twist (because I’m a bit of a tomboy myself), like putting a sequin heart on a sporty baseball tee.

Do it yourself: Making your own graphic tee is the perfect rainy-day activity. My favorite fabric markers are by Marvy. They smell a bit, so I recommend opening a window, but I love them because they have all these great neons.

© 2014 by J.Crew. All Images and materials are copyrighted by J.Crew unless otherwise noted.

To The Top
To Top