Travel Notes: Blue Jean Baby

our denim designers took a trip to LA’s Rose Bowl—
aka the mecca of all vintage cool—to hunt for denim
inspiration from throughout the ages
So why the Rose Bowl?
People travel from all over the world to buy and sell there, and we really trust the vendors’ expertise. For example, we always visit one guy who finds his vintage denim in small old mining towns—it’s amazing to see what he’s dug up for us (pun intended). Although we leave Rose Bowl with armloads
of jeans, we also look for vintage shirts, dresses and jackets to inspire the rest of our washed product.
What do you look for in a pair of vintage jeans?
Wear patterns! These are the patterns the original owner created from wearing them day in and day out. We love that they can tell a little story about the owner—like you can tell if they were right- or left-handed from the wallet mark in the back pocket. On this trip, we found a denim shirt with a dip-can mark in the front pocket, so we imagine it belonged to some rugged and weathered cowboy!

Best Rose Bowl find?
We found some really great jean jackets, especially a couple with amazing dark ground colors. It’s one thing to find denim with a great wear pattern; it’s another to find it with subtle wear patterns where the ground is still as dark as the day it was bought. It means the owner took good care of it, which allows us to create a darker jean jacket that has more authentic wear on it.
Favorite denim look of all time?
Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg. We love how she looks classic and beautiful in just a white tee and a jean short. Serge looks great too in his denim on denim. (image credit: jane birken)

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.

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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.

All About Kate

Kate, an assistant designer known around here for her
signature hats and eye for vintage finds, shares her style
inspirations, from getaways Française to American classics
On the summer 2012 Weddings & Parties collection:
We were inspired by the feeling of the French Riviera; we wanted the collection to feel like a fun vacation spot. We used a lot of light, gorgeous linens, colorful stripes and breezy silhouettes to give women the right attitude to deal with the summer heat.

On her secret source of inspiration:
I love looking at vintage hats for inspiration. Hats are always playing around with proportions, materials and trims and inevitably give attitude to whoever’s wearing them—so I like trying to translate those ideas into clothing.

On the classics:
I love American sportswear, and that’s my go-to for silhouettes. I like taking classical styles that have lived on from decade to decade and changing them with unexpected fabrications and proportions. I play around with different closures, trims and beadings in order to give clothes a feeling of familiarity while still feeling surprising.

Take a peek inside Kate’s handbag at

Bienvenue a la Maison!

a few of our women’s designers just returned
from an inspiration trip to Paris—here are
just a few of the snapshots from their trip
The people on the streets of Paris have
an effortless style that is so inspiring.
The designers headed to Paris to gather inspiration for next year’s fall and holiday collections.

Christina, one of our women’s designers, gives us the style verdict. “Colorblocking and bold hues are still everywhere. Blouses and skirts with classic coats for a polished, ladylike look are still really important. The people on the streets of Paris have an effortless style that is so inspiring.”

1. Amazing door knocker—Paris is filled with them.
2. “Vanilla ice cream with espresso; hello—my version of a Red Bull!” —Somsack
3. “The impeccably trimmed trees at the Palais Royal—all the trees are rectangles, lined up perfectly. One of my most favorite things in Paris!” —Somsack
4. “Effortless Parisian street style.” —Christina
5. Girls on the streets of Paris, laughing and having a good time.
6. A colorful character at a café.
7. The design team’s hands-down favorite place for lunch? Café de Flore.

(post by Amy R., Christina J., Somsack S., Titina W.)

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

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