J.Crew is parting ways with the designer behind the mammoth success of its Madewell brand as the company looks to get back on its feet.
The retailer’s chief design officer Somsack Sikhounmuong is leaving the company after 16 years at Madewell and at the J.Crew brand, Margot Fooshee, a company spokeswoman told Fortune, confirming an earlier report by Bloomberg News.
“Somsack’s current responsibilities, which include the oversight of all product design and development, will be transitioned to other members of our very seasoned and talented design team currently in place,” she said in an email.
The departure is just the latest in a tumultuous for the iconic but troubled clothing retailer this year: in June it announced long time CEO Mickey Drexler was stepping down, and earlier in the spring, that creative director Jenna Lyons, the key architect of J.Crew’s overall look, would resign. Sikhoumoung was named as her replacement. Sikhoumoung made his reputation at Madewell, a brand beloved for its stylish, high quality basics.
J.Crew has seen sales languish for years now as it has contended with many fashion misses, particularly in its women’s apparel and a growing dependence on discounting, not unlike the problems faced by other specialty clothing chains. On top of a string of uninspired designs, J.Crew proved no more immune than rivals like Gap Inc (GPS)and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) to challenges like shoppers’ shift to discounting, the pressure from fast fashion chains like H&M and Zara, and overall boredom with the abundance of fashion options.
The company has also been the author of its own problems: it has confused shoppers by oscillating between affordable yet preppy clothes and higher end items that many customers didn’t take to, in part because of higher prices. J.Crew’s private equity owners, TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners, took a $1 billion write-down in 2015 because of the brand’s deteriorating popularity.
In July, James Brett, a former president of Williams-Sonoma, was named CEO, looking to fix the business at the same time J.Crew is trying to extend the maturity on some of the private equity owned company. In its most recent quarter, the company reported an overall 5% decline in quarterly sales; but the contrast between its two divisions could not be more striking. At the namesake brand, comparable sales fell 8%, but at Madewell, a much smaller brand, they rose 11%. In another sign of the big changes at J.Crew, the retailer will not be showing at this year’s New York’s Fashion Week, skipping the event for the first time since 2011.