Who Is the Bearded Hippie in the September J.Crew Catalog?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 1 2010 3:16 PM

Who Is the Bearded Hippie in the September J.Crew Catalog?

Turn the corner in any major American city of late, and you're bound to bump into a man sporting a curiously un-summery combo of greasy, shoulder-length hair and a full, bushy beard. No, this hirsute fellow is not destitute, and he is not going to rob you or abduct your child; if you look closely, he's actually meticulously dressed and is probably on his way to his job as a professional mixologist, molecular gastronomist, or furniture designer. His look, inspired in equal parts by The Royal Tenenbaums , nineties grunge, seventies rock, and the New Testament , has become almost comically ubiquitous. But recently I was shocked to find him in the one place I thought he'd never show up: the J.Crew catalog.

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It's no secret that J.Crew has been working to change its image. J.Crew President and Creative Director Jenna Lyons has breathed new life and daring into a company that made its name marketing boring basics as preppy classics . That marketing was largely done through the J.Crew catalog, which, season after season, created a sunny and comforting world of fresh-faced American beauties frolicking in iconic New England settings, often aboard boats.

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The current catalog is set in an empty, industrial loft, but most of the models are generally still of the typical J.Crew mold: relatively clean-cut and boyishly good-looking. They wear warm, quirky expressions, smiling shyly into the camera or looking adorably befuddled. They layer jean jackets underneath Barbour jackets, pair ties with cardigans, and topsiders with suits. The message is new, but not that new. The models seem to be saying: I know the clothes are suddenly more expensive and I'm a little scruffier than I used to be, but this is still J.Crew: Check out my bluchers! Indeed, these might be the very same models, from catalogs of yore, who once proudly stood at the helms of sailboats wearing ribbon belts, salmon colored polos, and cargo shorts.

But in their midst is an interloper, a long-haired, long-bearded, sallow-skinned hipster who looks like he'd kill himself before putting on a pair of lobster- festooned khakis. There he is on Page 11, discordant in a slim cut gray Italian wool suit and skinny gray tie , staring longingly out the window at the non-J.Crew world where he belongs. There he is again on Page 20, wearing the same bored expression and limp posture but slightly more at home in a fisherman-style toggle cardigan, chambray shirt, and a pair of rolled gray chinos. Is his hair thinning, or is that just the lank way it falls against his scalp? Is it the light, or does he seem a bit sickly around the eyes? Is he not getting paid enough to look as if he wants to be there? J.Crew is certainly getting cooler, but what is this unkempt downer doing in its still peppy, optimistic, and well-groomed world?  

A bit of digging reveals the identity of this sullen tramp: He's Will Lewis , who recently walked the runway in Paris for John Paul Gaultier and starred last year in a Diesel jeans ad campaign , appearing mostly without any jeans on. In an interview on the blog of fashion PR man Marcelo Burlon , Lewis reinforces the notion that long hair and a big beard do not necessarily a dirty slacker make. "I'm big on hygiene," he says. "I do modeling most of the time but ... I also do computer and internet technology consulting and set up." A computer nerd who's also a model? It sounds a bit like a hippie who likes to wear J.Crew.

Julia Felsenthal is an assistant at Slate.

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