Made in the USA: J.Crew x New Balance® 998 Independence Day sneaker

we headed all the way up to Maine to see our latest New Balance collaboration come together.
Stepping out of the car at New Balance’s Skowhegan, Maine, factory you immediately pick up on two things: You probably should have worn boots (there’s a lot of snow on the ground for April) and you probably shouldn’t mention the Yankees (the uniform here seems to require a red “B”). It’s not the type of place you’d expect would generate effusive Internet commentary or serve as a sneakerhead mecca, but that’s exactly what it is. So here we are, because if you want to see some of the last shoe craftspeople in Maine make some of the most sought after sneakers in the world, this is where you go.

“We—New Balance—were the best-kept secret here for years,” says line supervisor Margaret Daigle proudly, and she would know, having 33 years of experience at the company under her belt. She raises her voice to be heard over the buzz and chirp of the factory lines, which have just come alive this morning, all in service of creating 998 Independence Day sneakers, which, right now, are just piles of red, white and blue parts.
Walking the brightly lit assembly floor it’s hard not to notice that, despite the modern technology, making sneakers is still very much a hands-on business of cutting, stitching and finishing. Susan Collier, who’s responsible for employee learning and development, sums it up well: “As you can see, there aren’t robots out here putting these shoes together. It’s a craft.”

The factory’s lines are each capable of producing up to 600 pairs of athletic shoes a day, and a goal sign lets everybody know how they’re doing in real time (every finished pair gets tallied as it comes off the line). But nobody is going to get anything done until Oscar Brann (14 years on the job) fills the rolling carts high with pigskin sourced from a local Maine factory. Thankfully, Brann works the die-cutting machine like a pro—’cause he is one.
True, there are no robots here. But there are a lot of American flags: some tucked into machines, some found on workers wearing T-shirts with New Balance’s “Made Here” logo. Unsurprisingly, there are some pretty strong feelings associated with what the logo represents. “There is unbelievable amount of pride in this building around making a made-in-the-USA product,” says Collier. Daigle agrees, “I wouldn’t want them made anywhere else. We take a lot of pride in what we do.”
A few hours later, the completed 998s are being nestled into their boxes—the only ones this factory will ever make—and everyone is breaking for lunch. Employees head for their cars or for one of the Ping-Pong tables downstairs. I quiz people on their plans for the Fourth of July and common themes take shape: family, fireworks and barbecues at lakeside camps—not houses, as the locals quickly correct me.

I pose the same question about plans for the Fourth to Brann, and he wants to know if I want an honest answer. (Of course I do.) “Fish and drink beer,” he says with a smile.

Photography by Bryan Derballa

meet Mark, our art director and all-around aesthetic eye, who, in addition to being an early adopter of super-cuffed denim, rocks a pair of Adidas® Stan Smiths™ like nobody’s business.

Growing up, what influenced your style?
I read my first GQ when I was 12 and asked my mother for a subscription for my 13th birthday. I am a child of the ’80s and a young adult of the ’90s—music was a big influence: The Smiths, Depeche Mode and some Madonna, I’ll admit.

Safe to say you’re a diehard sneaker guy, right?
I think sneakers are so comfortable, and what’s so great about them is that they have the ability to make, say, a pair of tuxedo pants and a chambray shirt feel right for work. They’re not for everyone, but I like to mix things up.

Photography by Bryan Derballa.

Special thanks to the Foliage Garden. To shop Mark’s Adidas Stan Smith sneakers, click here.

Everybody freak out. Sophia Webster™ for J.Crew is here.

the shoes we’ve had our eye on since our spring/summer ’14 presentation are finally here. we take a look back at how the outrageously cool collection came together (and begin the impossible task of picking a favorite)…

If there’s a period that most inspires Sophia Webster’s aesthetic, it is certainly her teenage years in the ’90s. From classic films like “Clueless” and “Edward Scissorhands” to musicians like Aaliyah, Gwen Stefani and Destiny’s Child (whose record hangs on her studio wall), pop culture from that era informs her eye-catching designs. With a penchant for pink, polka dots and hearts, she’s a fan of girly charm—but she always adds an edgy element. “I like the shoes to have a bit of attitude and character,” she says. “It would be boring if everything was overly feminine.”

One of Webster’s biggest fans? Our creative director, Jenna. After falling in love with Webster’s quirky heels, Jenna approached the designer about doing an exclusive collection for J.Crew. “It’s a collaboration in the truest sense,” explains Webster. “Jenna and the team selected their favorite looks, then I was let loose with J.Crew’s entire spring/summer 2014 materials and color palette. I was like a girl in a sweet shop!” The result is a unique combination of J.Crew colors with Webster’s signature embroidered details and tassels. Needless to say, we’re head over heels.
To shop the Sophia Webster for J.Crew collection, click here.

To see how our collaboration with Sophia Webster came about, click here.

A Double Monk Is Born

to learn more about shoemaker Alfred Sargent’s craftsmanship, Paul Sargent led us on a tour of its Rushden factory, where we got to witness a few of the 200 steps required to make every shoe—including the J.Crew double monk strap. here, we got an inside look on the process.
Welcome To Rushden
Rushden, Northamptonshire, has long been the home of traditional English shoemaking and, not coincidentally, Alfred Sargent. Alfred Sargent, founded in 1899 by its namesake and currently overseen by his great-great-grandson Paul, still handcrafts every pair, from selecting the finest Italian calf leather to carving the lasts to attaching the Goodyear welt—a process that requires more than 200 separate steps and has changed little in over 100 years.
The J.Crew double monk strap shoe begins as a handmade drawing. This is design-6, meaning it’s the sixth variation of this style that Alfred Sargent has made.
Leather controller Terry Bradbury sorts the leather that will be used for the J.Crew double monk strap in the leather room. (Hundreds of leathers are considered.) He’s looking for inconsistencies, defects and other undesirable marks.
Once selected, the leather is cut into shape using double-edge press knives. (Notice the monk straps sticking out at the bottom.)
Using a 99E last, the leather is then side stapled with brass staples to hold the upper to the rib, where the welt will later be sewed on.
Granulated cork is applied by hand. It will form the layer between the sole and the insole, which will mold to the foot with wear.
After the shoe is soled and the Goodyear welt is applied, it’s edge-trimmed, a process that smooths the area where the welt meets the sole.
The next-to-last step in the process happens in the shoe room, where antique cream is applied to the leather. The cream protects and gives a burnished look to the leather.
In the final step, each pair of shoes is polished by hand.
A shoe is born: the monks are placed in a custom shoe box designed for J.Crew.
Photography by Bryan Derballa.

To shop our entire assortment of Alfred Sargent for J.Crew, click here.

Discovered: Penelope Chilvers
meet Penelope Chilvers, the London-based shoe designer whose Spanish-made boots have had British cool girls hooked since 2006. we popped by her studio and new store in Notting Hill to learn more about the inspiration behind the Cubana boot.
When did your love affair with Spanish culture begin?
As a child, I spent every school holiday in the province of Girona, where I first came across rustic, handmade alpargatas (espadrilles). I’ve been trying to make the perfect raw-edged bullhide moccasin from my childhood memories ever since!

You trained as a painter. What inspired you to start your own shoe line?
I ride in traditional Spanish riding boots and I saw the potential for them to be worn not only on horseback, but also as a fashion boot. So I took the classic style and lengthened and recut it close to the ankle.

What inspired the Cubana boot in velvet? (We love the ’60s Beatles boot vibe!)
It reminds me of Spanish Gypsies in the ’60s. It’s another men’s style I’ve converted for women.
Is there a particular style era you’re inspired by?
Renaissance Italy, 1950s Africa, 1980s London… There are so many.

Do you have a London-based style crush?
I love Alexa Chung’s androgynous take on fashion. She wears our Cubana boots often and they look amazing on her.
Photography by Kasia Bobula.

Our London flagship at Regent Street opens November 8th. For more on our opening in London, click here.

To shop our assortment of Penelope Chilvers™ boots boots, click here.

Studio Tour: Sophia Webster
we spent an afternoon hanging out with the British footwear designer (and newest J.Crew collaborator) in her newly minted ’90s-themed studio (replete with a Destiny’s Child record cover and hot-pink acrylic accents) and talked inspiration, the movie Clueless and what it was like to work with J.Crew…
Sophia, photographed sketching at her desk, wears a Mary Katrantzou blouse and vintage jean.

Hometown & current home
I grew up in Kent and currently live in North East London.

Shoe designer.

When did your love affair with shoes begin?
One of my earliest memories is of trying on my older sister’s shoes, but my mum also had many pairs, so I’ve always felt the strong relationship that women have with their shoes. When I was attending Camberwell College of Arts, I remember doing a class in still-life fashion illustration. I really enjoyed drawing and sketching shoes and taking sculpture classes, so it was a natural progression.
Clockwise from top left: Sophia Webster Penelope, Loren and Riko styles.

Before you started your own line, you worked with Nicholas Kirkwood. Tell us a little bit about that experience.
Working alongside Nicholas Kirkwood was a great experience. Every day was different, and it was just as much about learning how the business works as it was about designing. Nicholas taught me to trust my own instincts and vision and how to create something beautiful from my ideas.

Tell us about the inspiration for your own fall/winter 2013 collection.
Some pieces in the collection have been inspired by one of my favorite films from the ’90s, Clueless, and its main character, Cher Horowitz. Her yellow plaid outfit in the beginning of the film was the main inspiration for the Amber 1 and Dulcie 2 (shown below) styles. One of the things I enjoy most about designing my collections is bringing fantasies to life through my shoes and accessories.
The Dulcie 2 from Sophia Webster’s fall/winter 2013 collection is inspired by the movie Clueless.
How would you describe your own personal style?
I love color (I’ve always been drawn to pink) and print. I tend to be pretty casual in the way I dress, but I always have an extra pair of my shoes in my bag.

Do you have a homegrown style crush?
Fashion consultant Yasmin Sewell. Her style really reflects what, I believe, London fashion is. She’s unafraid to mix up her look and has her finger on the pulse of young brands and trends.

What makes this an exciting moment to be a creative person working in London?
I feel really lucky because new designers are so supported here. It’s unparalleled. London breeds freethinkers, and enterprising activity is encouraged. I’m constantly inspired by the people and culture that surround me here.
Photography by Bryan Derballa.

For more on our spring/summer 2014 presentation, which includes shoes designed by Sophia Webster, click here.

Up Close: Sophia Webster for J.Crew
at our New York Fashion Week presentation earlier this week, we excitedly debuted our collaboration with the up-and-coming British shoe designer. here’s a closer look at the shoes we can’t stop talking (and dreaming) about wearing next spring…
Sophia, wearing the Riko (shoes of her own design), joins the lineup of models during our 2014 spring/summer presentation.

Photography by Bryan Derballa.

Stay tuned next week as we visit Sophia Webster’s new studio in London and learn more about how she got her start designing.

Studio Tour: Tabitha Simmons®

CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runner-up Tabitha Simmons, the English-born shoe designer and stylist, invited us to her Chelsea studio to reveal an envy-inducing number of shoes and a little boy’s hat made of vintage Cracker Jack charms that was totally, well, charming.
Among shelves of coffee table books and an assortment of graciously pinned-up thank-you notes from designers like Jack and Lazaro of Proenza Schouler and Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, it’s the sixteen or so racks holding 500 pairs of shoes that steal the show. “I think the DNA of my shoe is something that’s quite chic and whimsical. It always has that sort of slight British quip to it,” says Simmons.

The shoe manufacturing happens in Italy, but it’s here in Simmons’s office where the creative process of reviewing swatches and sketches begins. “I don’t really have a desk, I guess. I’m always sitting somewhere other than my desk or on the floor, cutting,” she says. “I’m never in one place.”

Most of Simmons’s office is a clean palette—big white sofas, freshly painted white walls, huge picture windows. Even the hundreds of shoes and clear bins stacked 20 high of styling accessories are concealed by a large curtain. Perhaps this is an effort to keep her working space somewhat neutral, since in addition to shoe design, Simmons is a stylist for Vogue and finds herself ping-ponging between Milan and Paris for shoots. “I try to keep styling and shoe design in two different heads,” she says. “I think the thing about having a background in design is that it just makes you very aware of the details and what’s around you. And from there you just get to work.”
Photography by Bryan Derballa.

Read more about the lead-up to the launch of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund collections here.

And to shop the exclusive Tabitha Simmons shoe collection and the rest of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund designs, click here.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

a trip to NYC, a J.Crew shopping spree and a tour of the Vogue offices?
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Walk This Way

oftentimes, our In Good Company partnerships stem from a love affair
we’ve had with a brand well before we started working with it. case in
point: Stubbs & Wootton®. more than a few of us have been known to stockpile
multiple pairs of its slippers in our closets. here, a look at our personal favorites
(you’ll even spot a cheeky pair that Stubbs created especially for us).
image image image imageimage
Photographs by Bryan Derballa

Shop our Stubbs & Wootton for J.Crew styles here, and
explore our entire collection of loafers here.

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

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