At 40, J. Crew Shakes Off a Midlife Crisis

At 40, J. Crew Shakes Off a Midlife Crisis

Since 2021, when her bosses asked her to make her Instagram account public, her following has gone from under 1,000 to 148,000. She’s not on TikTok, yet a search of her name there pulls up 2.2 million views. The selfies Ms. Gayot casually shoots in the full-length mirror of her office of herself wearing J. Crew with enviable ease — topped by her trademark mane of Botticelli curls — are starting to fill that Jenna Lyons cult-of-personality void without getting exactly personal, as Ms. Lyons is wont to do. They also cannily supply a steady feed of fresh looks and styling ideas.

For a brand that is not fast fashion, which plans its collections nine months to a year out, and metes out new goods in photo shoots released online every two weeks or so, Ms. Gayot’s feed is a gold mine.

Ms. Gayot started her new job in the very early days of the pandemic, pregnant with her second child and coming into the office daily, long before a vaccine was on the horizon.

She began designing by going through her own wardrobe. “I pulled out all of my favorite things, things I’ve worn forever, because that’s how I get dressed: in old photos, I’m wearing the same thing for years, just styled in different ways,” she said. Those standbys included trench coats, loafers and cashmere sweaters. She set about reinventing their proportions for the 2020s, “how low is the skirt sitting? How shrunken is the sweater?”

How boxy is the pinstripe suit? The first one Ms. Gayot designed, soon after she started her new job, was not dissimilar to the men’s-wear-inspired model she was wearing in her office the day we spoke. In J. Crew parlance, it was a look “borrowed from the boys,” that she’d styled with a fashion insider’s flair: pushed up sleeves, gold jewelry, tall patent-leather boots. Her first attempt at pinstripes, “we couldn’t sell,” she said with a laugh. “But this one sold out in, like, three days. The whole suit and the vest.” Ditto an Oxford-style loafer. Her first attempt was dead in the water. “Now — gone.”