“When I think of Christmas sweaters I just think of the ugly ones,” Frank Muytjens, head of men’s design for J.Crew and Wallace & Barnes said over the phone from his office in New York. Luckily, the man with an eye for both high quality design and mass appeal knows how to toe the line of style, but it doesn’t come without a substantial amount of hard work.
From start to finish, it takes about three months to conceptualize, design, and produce a single sweater. It begins with exploratory travel, where Mr. Muytens and his team of roughly four fellow explorers, track down the best items to base their new designs off of. “We always go to Tokyo,” the Dutch designer said. “They always have so much vintage Americana there. More than I’ve ever seen here. We come up with the most amazing samples. We try to replicate yarns also, it just depends on the twists. Overall it’s a great process.”
The J.Crew archive of Christmas sweaters has grown to hundreds of examples ranging from the traditional snowflake pull-overs you might find in the back of your father’s closet, to the tribal Cowichan sweaters sourced from British Colombia and beyond. After the one-of-a-kind sample is found, it’s up to the production team to find a matching yarn. “We find a rustic, tweedy, round yarn, or really hairy yarn, whatever it may be, then once we establish the yarn, we come up with a color palette. Then the design team figures out what we want that sweater to look like, we send it over to the factory, and it arrives a few months later.”
“We always have our classic crewneck and v neck cashmere sweater,” Mr. Muytjens said of the mass retailer’s mainstays. “We’ll always have that, but what I’m really excited about this year are the shawl collars, whether it’s a beautiful 12-gauge fine cashmere or 3-gauge cable turtleneck and gurney pattern.” It’s a delicate balance between the best sellers and the newer items that push the normal boundaries or pander to a forecasted trend. “I think he is always the same guy, but I feel like we’ve been growing up with him,” the designer said of his target customer. “He’s interested in quality and how things fit. He wants to look fashionable and not too trendy. I think guys are not afraid anymore to ask questions, and I think that’s amazing. They’re getting a bit more savvy since everything is at your finger tips, and I think he trusts us to sift through everything. When you come to our men’s store hopefully you can find anything ranging from a beautiful v-neck cashmere to a beat up pair of jeans, and next to that you have a beautiful Ludlow tuxedo. It’s a one stop destination.”