Elizabeth Street Meets Jenny Cooper
The stylish head designer of Crewcuts talks to us about her secrets to raising two boys and the importance of a white t-shirt
Jenny Cooper has been working at J. Crew, where she started out in women’s wear before switching over to Crewcuts for its launch in 2008, for 12 years. “I was the only designer that had children at that point,” she says.” “It helps to have some extra insight on the subject.” While Cooper’s two sons, Walker and Miller, have a signature style all their own, she still knows the secret to getting kids to dress in a way their parents will be proud of. “Everything we make at Crewcuts, I would put on my children,” she says. —Melissa Schweiger
Being a mom, what were the main things you wanted to interject into Crewcuts?
I thought there was a lack of variety out there for kids and I couldn’t find a nice-fitting pair of pants for a younger person. Everything was very wide and voluminous and they made Walker look a bit dumpy and so I was really excited to make a skinny pair of jeans and a skinny pair of cords that fit like real clothes. And color! When I had Walker there was only navy, white, and heather gray for boys. And for girls it was only baby pink and navy and white.
How would you describe your personal style?
Probably a man/girl. I’m inspired by and like wearing men’s clothes. I have to stop myself from looking like a man or a boy sometimes. But I love glitter and color and all of these girly things so it usually balances itself out. I like slouchy pants and I have to force myself to wear a heel. I’m a flats girl because I think it’s easier. Right now I have the Etta pump, which I love. I keep my heels at the office since I take the subway. We have great ballet flats, too—so I work at the perfect place! I have the neon orange Etta and it matches my kids’ Adidas soccer shoes from this season. We went on a trip to Chicago and they had just gotten their Adidas and I had just gotten those and we were matching.
How did becoming a mom change your style?
I have less time to get dressed in the morning, so I probably just don’t look as good. When I get dressed now it’s a little bit simpler, but when I get to the office and I decide I’m not quite where I want to be, I can just put a pair of heels on. There are little touches you can add.
What are your tips to other moms for getting ready in the morning with little time, but who still want to look normal?
Get a couple exciting things that you love and wear them with white t-shirts. Printed pants, a beautiful skirt—something that really inspires you or something that you really love and simplify it with a white t-shirt. There’s something about a short sleeve white t-shirt that is so essential and even a little bit masculine and it dresses down whatever that something special and exciting is that you have on the bottom. There was a linen tee from J. Crew that I bought in multiples this summer. We also have the vintage cotton tee that I have multiples of. I have a horror of being overdressed, so I have to mix the something dressy with the something undressed.
What pieces should be in every stylish mom’s wardrobe?
Good t-shirts and good shoes. And a pair of pants that makes you happy—whether it’ a pair of beat-up boyfriend jeans that look cool with a cashmere sweater or a pair of beautifully tailored wool pants that goes with the aforementioned white t-shirt. Prada makes a beautiful pant and Marni always makes a good slouchy pant and it’s always a little bit edgier. Those two brands have a really good fit.
What are your sons’ styles?
My lifesaver is our Bowery pant and our skinny jeans because they love wearing their soccer jerseys more than anything. The way they dress makes them feel stronger and I think that’s why they wear their soccer jerseys. The in-laws send soccer jerseys to them from Germany in huge sizes so they wear skinny pants with them. They also love the graphic tees and get excited when I bring them home.
Do you have any rules for your kids when it comes to getting dressed?
No sweatpants to school. My kids learn to accept no and now after saying no for 10 years, I’m really good it. Ultimately, they do care what their parents think.
What is your secret to balancing a busy work schedule and motherhood?
A good husband! And whenever I’m not at the office, I’m watching my kids and listening to them. All of my free time is spent with them. I don’t spend too much time on the blackberry. I try to devote all my spare time to them. I enjoy it. I love going to soccer games now—who knew?
Best parenting advice you’ve heard?
It was from my pediatrician. When Walker was one, she said: “Begin as you mean to go on.” Like if you don’t want them to wear sweatpants to school, start in Pre-K. Whatever you want them to not do, start as early as you can because then it just sticks. The older they get, the better they get at fighting you. So if there’s anything important to you, just start early.