J. Crew Group this week named Johanna Uurasjarvi as chief design officer, responsible for guiding the overall design direction for the brand. She will report to CEO Jim Brett.
Uurasjarvi arrives from West Elm, where she was creative director. Before that, she spent a decade as the creative director at Anthropologie, according to a company press release.
Her appointment fills a gap left by Somsack Sikhounmuong, who took on the top creative job at J. Crew last year as Executive Creative Director Jenna Lyons prepared to leave, but left last fall.
Brett and Uurasjarvi have teamed up at both West Elm and Urban Outfitters — Brett was West Elm’s president for some seven years and spent four of his six years at Urban Outfitters as divisional merchandise manager at Anthropologie.
And now, a year after his appointment to the top post at J. Crew, in the wake of Mickey Drexler’s exit, Brett is solidifying his team. The retailer has put much of its drama behind it — not just last year's high-profile departures, but also a debt swap drama — and is recapturing sales after some dismal financial reports.
In the first quarter, J. Crew sales fell 7% to $391.9 million as comparable sales dropped 6% (following an 11% decline a year ago). Madewell sales, meanwhile, rose a whopping 39% to $115.8 million and comparable sales rose 31% following the 11% increase a year ago. Operating loss in the quarter was $0.9 million compared to $151 million in the year-ago quarter as net loss narrowed to $33.9 million from $121 million.
But the retailer continues to face a host of challenges. First, its much smaller Madewell brand is the one resonating with customers, forcing a quick scale up effort in operations. Second, is what to do — operationally and in terms of merchandising — with the flagship J. Crew banner.
Brett is putting much faith in his former colleague. At West Elm, Uurasjarvi was behind the concept of a lighter and brighter interpretation of classic mid-century modern, and was an instrumental part of a team that helped the brand to reach $1 billion in revenue, J. Crew said in a press release.
At Anthropologie, she built that brand’s first in-house design team and had a hand in developing its signature whimsical style. And in 2008, Uurasjarvi developed a cult wholesale brand Leifsdottir, that was swiftly picked up and carried by other retailers including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom, the company said.
"Johanna brings more than 25 years of fashion and design experience with a unique understanding of how customers shop and live. She is a visionary with impeccable taste who will undoubtedly inspire our team, our partners, and our customers," Brett said in a statement. "We had a powerful and successful partnership at West Elm and Anthropologie, and to work with her again is an honor."