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At New York Fashion Week, J.Crew Rings in the Late Aughts Fashion Revival

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J.Crew? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs? Opening Ceremony? Fashion’s recent past is coming back with a vengeance. 

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Madison Voelkel/BFA.com

This originally appeared in Show Notes, GQ staffer Samuel Hine’s fashion week newsletter. For more stories like it, hit the link above and subscribe.

It’s the first day of New York Fashion Week, which in recent years has become a particularly strong showcase for next-gen talents and their radical inventions. Think Collina Strada’s fluid, regenerated raver garments, or Luar’s edgy mix of “premium trash.” It’s become popular to complain about the lack of big names on the NYFW schedule, but it’s actually created a beautiful dynamic where, with only a few true-blue headliners, Italian stalwart Marni—who jumped over from Milan for the season; New York’s still got it, baby!—and homegrown trouser genius Maryam Nassir Zadeh are two of the hottest tickets in town.

There was a different feeling in the air on Wednesday night, though. You could almost smell the Paco Rabanne cologne wafting through the air of Jean’s, a new nightclub in the space once occupied by infamous aughts party restaurant Butter. Half the guests in the packed room were wearing striped oxford shirts, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were ripping onstage. It felt like a wormhole to 2009 had opened up on Lafayette St. The most obvious tether to our current reality was the presence of rising Brooklyn drill rapper Fivio Foreign, bobbing his head to “Maps.”

The time-warp felt right, since it was conjured up to celebrate the comeback of J.Crew, thought to have gone the way of guitar music and skinny jeans. The NYFW eve-eve party was held in honor of the brand’s new men’s creative director, Brendon Babenzien, whose first collection for the struggling retailer was giddily received both by the men’s fashion press and by customers hungrily snapping up every pair of Babenzien’s awesomely voluminous Giant Chinos.

Babenzien and J.Crew weren’t exactly trying to conjure fashion week notoriety out of nowhere. It wasn’t too long ago that J.Crew, under Jenna Lyons, was doing must-see shows at Lincoln Center. But as the mall brand struggled to find its footing in recent years, which culminated in the brand going bankrupt in 2020, it’s safe to say we all firmly moved on. Until Wednesday night, that is. Outside Jean’s, friends of Noah employees skated up and tried to sweet talk their way past the iPad-wielding publicists at the door. Let’s appreciate that for a moment: people were trying to sneak into a J.Crew party in 2022. And inside, the crowd buzzed like the clock was approaching the midnight hour, when it was really still 7:30 by the time Jean’s started filling up.

J.Crew men’s creative director Brendon Babenzien and his wife Estelle Bailey Babenzien—who designed the new J.Crew men’s store—with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Madison Voelkel/BFA.com

Babenzien has a well-honed sense of what’s cool, of seeing things earlier than other people do, as he told GQ’s Sam Schube earlier this year. Just look at his track record at Noah, where he introduced young New Yorkers to irreverent preppy clothing, and at Supreme, which he helped turn into, you know, Supreme. Looking around at the crowd, full of fashion press and groups of How Long Gone guests—HLG co-host Chris Black is a creative consultant for J.Crew—dancing and gulping down Brooklyn Lagers next to a bar branded with a big J.Crew logo, I asked Babenzien: is the spirit of the late aughts set for a revival?

“A lot of what I do is referential, and is often looking back,” Babenzien told me at the post-concert VIP dinner at Indochine. “It’s not nostalgic, it’s just like, there’s good things we take from the past, and we bring them forward. I’ve been doing that with design forever, and it’s kind of about timing…Things are just coming out when they’re supposed to. This type of clothing, this type of fit, this kind of music feels good again, you know? It just happens naturally.”

Judging by the rest of the NYFW schedule, Babenzien isn’t the only one with his eyes cast a decade into the past. After a wave of ’90s revivals led by millennials seeking refuge in the styles of their youth, the mainstream fashion industry appears ready to embrace a more complicated era—and not in an irony-pilled, invite-Cobrasnake-to-shoot-the-party kind of way.

Remember 2009’s Fashion’s Night Out, that post-crash celebration of New York’s fashion retailers led by Vogue’s inner circle of designers and A-list friends? Meet Vogue World, taking place Monday night, a public-facing celebration of 130 years of Vogue with a live fashion show and street fair and Lil Nas X—FNO re-worked and live-streamed for Vogue’s young fans and followers. And tonight’s Fendi one-off NYFW Fendi show finds Marc Jacobs, who reached the height of his cultural and commercial power in the late aughts, presenting a special collection with Kim Jones honoring the Fendi Baguette bag, that ultimate coming-of-age status symbol in turn-of-the-century New York.

The aughts were alive last night, too, in Williamsburg (!) where Opening Ceremony founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim (along with the likes of Chloë Sevigny and Spike Jonze) hosted a party to celebrate the specialty-store-turned-brand’s 20th anniversary. Along with Jacobs, Leon and Lim were a pillar of the late aughts fashion scene—OC was “the most influential place in retail” for the NYC It-crowd and fashion fans, according to a 2008 New York Times piece, until closing its doors in 2020. Before ballroom legend Kevin Aviance took to the floor, I asked Leon for his take.

“We were super lucky to be a part of that time period,” he told me. “We’ve always been about culture, and the aughts were always about bringing different cultures together.”

I asked Leon if they would ever reopen. “I’m sure we will,” he replied without hesitation. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Opening Ceremony won’t be the only retail touchstone of that era to return downtown. J.Crew is opening a dedicated men’s specialty store next week on the Bowery. The last time they did that? 2008.

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