Madewell, the steadier performing brand of the J. Crew Group, has named Adrienne Lazarus president to extend its track record of growth.
Lazarus, a 30-year veteran of specialty retail and direct-to-consumer companies, will join Madewell in September and oversee all of the retailer’s functions. She will report to Libby Wadle, chief executive officer of J. Crew Group, which operates J. Crew, J. Crew Factory Outlets, Crewcuts and Madewell.
Wadle has been overseeing both Madewell and J. Crew, but will turn over the day-to-day management of Madewell to Lazarus.
“Adrienne’s exceptional leadership skills, creativity and passion for building relevant, customer-centric and purpose-driven brands will be a great asset to our team as Madewell continues to scale,” Wadle said in a statement Tuesday. “Her strategic approach, entrepreneurial spirit, and proven track record makes her the ideal leader to join Madewell as we position the brand for the future.”
Wadle was not available for further comment Tuesday, but the addition of Lazarus at Madewell would enable Wadle to perform more of a strategic role, setting future directions for both Madewell and J. Crew, and also devote more time to J. Crew, where work is needed to recapture the popularity, style authority and cool factor it once had until the business started slipping roughly nine years ago. The J. Crew brand does not have its own president.
The last person to hold the title of Madewell president was Wadle. After working for several years at Madewell, including being part of the team led by Millard “Mickey” Drexler that launched the brand in 2006, she became president of Madewell in 2017. In April 2019 she was promoted to CEO of Madewell, and in November 2020, Wadle was again promoted, to CEO of the J. Crew Group. She successfully navigated the company through the pandemic, brought Madewell back to growth mode, and has been working to revive J. Crew.
Lazarus was most recently co-CEO of Cuup, a direct-to-consumer intimates brand, and a senior adviser at McKinsey & Company, counseling retail and apparel clients. Earlier, Lazarus served as CEO of Bandier, CEO of Frye, and president of Intermix. In its announcement Tuesday, J. Crew Group credited Lazarus with “leading those companies through substantial periods of growth and driving two successful transactions.”
Lazarus was also once the president of the Ann Taylor brand, leading a turnaround there and during her 17-year tenure at Ann Taylor Inc. she was instrumental in launching and growing Loft to $1 billion in revenue.
The Madewell look.
“Madewell is an iconic brand with well-positioned product, deep customer loyalty and unique focus on creating community,” Lazarus said in a statement. “I’m energized by the clear potential for growth…”
The casual, laid-back Madewell brand entered 2023 with what its executives characterized as a “culled-down, elevated and refined” collection aimed at keeping pace with America’s fast-changing shopping patterns. They put the spotlight on Madewell’s “new classics” — the leather blazer, poplin shirt, the trench coat, a relaxed suit, a sling bag, the slipdress — as well as trending denim leg shapes, oversized separates, and styles and outfits versatile to wear day-into-night and for different occasions. The company continues to be rooted in denim, which accounts for about one third of the volume. Madewell is tracking toward generating $1 billion in sales eventually. In 2018, it generated roughly $700 million in volume.
With its fall 2023 collection, Madewell continued to evolve. “It really does tie back to the work we started for spring — our effortlessly refined perspective, always rooted in denim,” Joyce Lee, creative director at Madewell, told WWD in a recent interview. Relaxed tailoring, separates that can be paired with the denim, chinos, and “effortless” styles are all important, she said.
Since its launch, Madewell has maintained a downtown, youth appeal without being trendy. As the years pass, it must evolve as lifestyles change, and customers get older, while also drawing in new shoppers. Building menswear is another challenge.
In 2019, the owners of J. Crew Group revealed plans to take the-then high-flying Madewell public but eventually aborted that idea due to the impact of COVID-19 and a determination that the sister J. Crew brand, being saddled with debt, wouldn’t survive on its own. The company filed Chapter 11 in April 2020 and four months later, through a debt-for-equity swap, emerged from the bankruptcy with almost all of its $1.7 billion of debt wiped out and with Anchorage Capital Group LLC as majority owner.
As of Aug. 1, the J. Crew Group operated 121 J. Crew retail stores, 152 Madewell stores, and 199 J. Crew Factory outlets in nearly every state in the U.S. The company also operates e-commerce website and selectively wholesales its brands.