Crew's Control

With guidance from a newly out creative director, J. Crew works to update its staid image.

BY Ari Karpel

September 11 2012 3:30 AM ET

It all started with a blog post, as so many things do these days.

Back in April 2011, Keith Ablow — a mystery novelist and forensic psychiatrist whose hate-spewing distortions are regularly presented by Fox News Channel and its website as the perspective of a legitimate mental health professional — was blogging about that day’s choice of topic: J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons, who, as creative director of the retail clothing company, had recently done a playful photo shoot with herself and her son, Beckett, who had his toenails painted hot pink. Mon dieu!

“This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity,” wrote Ablow.

According to the doctor, Lyons’s actions were nothing less than an attack on truth, in this case the truth of one’s gender, which he sees as incontrovertible, singular, and divined at birth.

“These folks,” Ablow went on, referring to the whole crew at J., “are hostile to the gender distinctions that actually are part of the magnificent synergy that creates and sustains the human race. They respect their own creative notions a whole lot more than any creative Force [his capital F] in the universe.”

Absurd though it was, Ablow’s rant was cited again and again on Fox News, and its frequent repetition prompted reactions all over the media. Once again, Fox had ginned up a controversy over nothing, though that nothing could have big implications for someone’s career. But Lyons and J. Crew never took the bait; the company declined to comment for every story about the incident, including this one.

The nail polish nontroversy, referred to in some media circles as “Toemageddon,” marked the first time many people ever heard of Jenna Lyons. Alas, it has not been the last. Six months later, in October of last year, word got out that Lyons had been going through a divorce from her husband and was in a relationship with a woman.

Ablow’s response: “What it says is that my worry that Ms. Lyons might be expressing her own discomfort with masculinity and projecting it onto her son — and mine, and yours — seems to have been justified.”

As if that weren’t fearmongering enough: “It says that she was, indeed, apparently using J. Crew — a brand so many or our kids gravitate toward — as her launching pad for a mini-campaign to change the way our kids think about their bodies and their gender identities.”

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