Inspirations are funny things—you can never tell how they'll work themselves out. For Fall, Frank Muytjens was thinking of David Bailey's iconic (an overused word, but apropos here) photos of Michael Caine in the sixties. In the most famous of these, with dangling cigarette and heavy specs, Caine, despite being in his seductive Alfie phase, is dressed as soberly as a Bible salesman, in black suit and tie.
Muytjens mined the Englishness—Cool Britannia has never again been as cool as that—and left the rest for a later day. He's been pushing color at J.Crew, so Caine's black suit became one in Black Watch Harris Tweed. The storied mill provided many of the suiting fabrics, joined by other factories like Abraham Moon, Marling & Evans, and Barberis cashmere. The upscaling of the Crew—at least the parts that make it to New York fashion week—has been so slow and steady that it can take a minute to appreciate the coup that bringing such fabrics to the broader public really is.
But while J.Crew is pushing finery on one hand, the label is celebrating the homespun and hard-worn on the other. Denim jackets in a rusty tobacco brown were styled into several looks. Gray sweatpants were patched and repatched, and the new jean style was a painter's pant. The stated inspiration for these were Paul Strand's photographs of Scottish fishermen, less polished than Alfie by a factor of forty.
The collision between workman and gentleman is one J.Crew has been staging for seasons. Here, the tension between the two felt more fraught than it sometimes has, and less resolved. But if some looks read insistently styled, mark it down to the fact that J.Crew offers, in its choose-your-own-adventure way, something for parties on both sides of the divide. How you wear it all is up to you.