Nick Wooster, your menswear anti-hero and JCPenney men's creative director, is taking his quirky approach to personal style and using it to better dress mainstream America. A daunting task. However, Wooster has made a splash with the recently introduced JCP line, and things are looking up for the once do-it-all mass merchant. Esquire had the opportunity to sit down with the style icon and discuss what's next for JCPenney, cold weather style, and why you should opt for the cardigan. Read some choice excerpts from the interview below.
ESQUIRE.COM: So, tell us a little bit about your role at JCPenney.
NICK WOOSTER: Well, I've been given the opportunity to dress America, and to do it in a way that is, I think, democratic. It's exciting. For such a long time the focus of the store was about price, and it had nothing to do with style — making a guy look better, and feel better. And you can still find amazing bargains and value. But one of the guys in brand management said this early on, and I thought this was the most brilliant thing because it perfectly articulated what my job is: "It doesn't cost more to choose the right color or make it fit right." I just said to myself, "Oh, right." The amazing thing is how open the whole culture at JCPenney was to doing that, to going above and beyond.
ESQ: And what's the next step for JCP's men's-wear?
NW: One of the first things I looked at was that we sell a lot of chinos. And I asked, "Where are all the jackets to go with them?" They said that a jacket is a completer piece, but I said, "No, a jacket is the foundation of a guy's wardrobe." So we're going to have four amazing new cotton jacket styles soon. There's a democratic fit, there's a slim fit, and we have them in washed options and in pressed, polished options. And that's easy. That was just a really easy thing to do. We're also going to have dress shirts in both regular and slim fit in every size. I think that's a really great way for everyone to feel included. Somebody won't look at something and say, "Oh, I like that, but it's too big for me, or too small for me." We'll have it for everybody.
ESQ: What about you, personally? Are you enjoying the colder weather, busting out the flannels and tweeds?
NW: I always say September is the worst month for me because it's neither fish nor foul; the summer is over, but it's really too hot to wear fall clothes. I'm still a beach person, I really miss the beach, so September is a month of mourning for me. But, by the time that October rolls around, I always live for that first cold snap. Like clockwork it sort of comes. And then a colder day like today is perfect. What's not to like? It's an opportunity to bust out all kinds of things. I have to say, I love the summer, but I don't love summer clothes to the degree I love fall clothes.
ESQ: So have you acquired, or rediscovered, anything from your closet recently that has been bringing joy to your life?
NW: Well, yeah. I love Harris Tweed. The jacket that I'm wearing is a collaboration I did with United Arrows and Harris Tweed. But we're going to have actual Harris Tweed fabric in JCPenney next fall. That's what we're working on right now.
ESQ: Really? In what? Jackets?
NW: In jackets, and it will be in two of our brands. More will be revealed. To me a Harris Tweed jacket is the kind of thing you should be able to have in your closet years from now — possibly it was your father's jacket, or even better your grandfather's jacket. I have a Harris Tweed jacket that is probably twelve years old, and I always look forward to the first time I get to wear it each year. I want us to have that heritage as a part of what we do. I'm also kind of having a love affair with cardigans again. I've decided I'm no longer pulling sweaters over my head. Maybe that's sort of an old man thing, but if it is, I'm there.