J. Crew's catalog had been lining mailboxes for 25 years when Frank Muytjens took the reins of its menswear division in 2008. Muytjens, who hails from the Netherlands and credits art school courses with honing his personal style, came aboard when J. Crew was in the midst of a renaissance. The company was starting to reap the rewards of its top-down retooling, with its first freestanding men's shop, the Liquor Store, which opened earlier that year, and the debut of its bespoke-inspired, slim-cut Ludlow suit.
Six years on, that suit has become the unofficial, yet ubiquitous, uniform of today's style-conscious young professional, while, on Muytjens's watch, J. Crew's menswear division has expanded its footprint, opening stores across the U.S. as well as in London and Hong Kong. "There's been a great response and that's such great validation," Muytjens says. He becomes visibly beatific when discussing the brand's overseas growth, not to mention recalling a seminal visit to a Vivienne Westwood show in the early '80s: "That's where I realized, This is where I belong," he says, stressing the proverbial distance between his natural-fit profession and the "small, rural village" he grew up in, where he felt people were "a little more closed-minded."
Before he was hired by J. Crew CEO Millard "Mickey" Drexler (and before a stint with Ralph Lauren), Muytjens had already established himself in Amsterdam's fashion industry. But as evidenced by his office -- which is decked out with Jasper Johns art and vintage shots of stevedores and Hemingway -- it seems the driven aesthete was always destined for the States. Drexler tasked him with further updating (and up-marketing) the menswear line, and in order to shake J. Crew out of its long-standing, Reagan-era formula -- Brooks Brothers-esque designs served up at a sliver of the price -- Muytjens introduced a neo-Americana look, trading stodgy silhouettes and prosaic shapes for sheared-down cuts with a retro mooring.
Ultimately, coming to America -- and more specifically to New York -- so amply filled a void in Muytjens's psyche that local color was bound to spill into his work. As he continues to spearhead such J. Crew initiatives as joining forces with brands like Timex and Ray-Ban, Muytjens remembers to appreciate the artful benefits of where he's wound up. "Everyone is creative here," he says. "That's what I was missing when I was growing up. It goes right back to that Vivienne Westwood moment: Yes, this feels like home."