• Fortune

J.Crew Names New Design Chief to Turnaround Struggling Brand

Help is on the way for J.Crew Group’s beleaguered namesake brand.

The company announced late Monday that it has named a new chief design officer, a two-time former colleague of its new CEO, and tasked her with winning back the once loyal shoppers who have left in droves in the last few years.

Johanna Uurasjarvi, a Finn, will be in charge of overall design direction for the J. Crew brand along with Crewcuts and Mercantile. The company also operates the smaller, but fast-growing Madewell chain, which has its own design team.

Uurasjarvi was previously creative director of West Elm, the furniture chain owned by Williams-Sonoma (WSM, +2.02%), and before that had been the long time creative director at Urban Outfitters’ (URBN, +2.12%) Anthropologie chain. At both companies, she worked with Jim Brett, who came J.Crew Group’s CEO last year, replacing Mickey Drexler.

It was Brett’s second major hire as CEO: in February, he hired Adam Brotman, the Starbucks executive who played a crucial role in turning the coffee chain into a retail tech leader, to be its chief experience office to improve customer service.

“Johanna brings more than 25 years of fashion and design experience with a unique understanding of how customers shop and live,” Brett said in a statement.

The team will have its work cut out for it. While Madewell continues to grow robustly, it is much smaller than J.Crew, whose comparable sales have been in decline for years, hurt by a slow reaction to changing trends, the perception that prices were no longer in sync with quality and a number of fashion misfires.

J.Crew has closed dozens of stores in the last two years but comparable sales, a gauge that excludes newly opened or closed stores, fell 6% in its most recent quarter, even as rivals such as The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, and American Eagle Outfitters posted better results.

At West Elm, Uurasjarvi oversaw the creation of its new modern assortment and it is conceivable that she could add home goods to J.Crew’s assortment. At Anthropologie, she was the executive creative director of product design.

Her arrival follows a period of turmoil at J.Crew, which last year saw the departure of longtime creative director Jenna Lyons and Drexler’s exit.

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