If you shopped at Madewell between 2013 and 2015 or at sister company J.Crew between 2015 and 2017, you’ve appreciated the work of Somsack Sikhounmuong. The designer had a much-celebrated 16-year career at the company, serving as Madewell’s head of design before replacing Jenna Lyons as chief creative officer of J.Crew. But in September 2017, he left—and has mostly been out of the design spotlight since.
Though he did take some time to travel and not be the creative director of a major American fashion brand, Sikhounmuong has been working behind the scenes on an exciting new fashion project: the creative relaunch of Alex Mill, co-designed with the brand’s founder, Alex Drexler.
Alex Mill is a brand Sikhounmuong not only has a professional connection to—Alex Drexler, who cofounded it in 2012, is the son of former CEO and chairman of the J.Crew Group Mickey Drexler—but also shops at, personally. “I’d always appreciated the brand tenets, whether it was quality or [making] easy clothes for everybody,” Sikhounmuong says. He and the elder Drexler had kept in touch, even after both had left the company. (Drexler departed his position as CEO in 2017, before Sikhounmuong; earlier this year, he stepped down as chairman of the board, but remains an advisor for J.Crew Group.) “He called me up one day and asked if I’d be interested in meeting Alex of Alex Mill. I was like, Yeah, of course—I’d always been a huge fan of the brand, and I [thought I] probably should start looking for something soon,” Sikhounmuong remembers.
For his part, Alex Drexler was interested in Sikhounmuong’s background in women’s design—until now, Alex Mill has only offered menswear, but women have expressed interest in its pieces. It felt like a natural next step for the company, especially with Sikhounmuong on board. Alex Mill’s inaugural women’s collection, for spring 2019, offers “easy clothes, uncomplicated clothes—clothes that you look at and don’t have to think too much [about],” he says. Translation? Tons of pockets.
Like its menswear, Alex Mill’s womenswear is made up of a laser-focused collection of pieces. “We were talking as a team [about how] people don’t really need more clothes—they just need the right clothes,” Sikhounmuong says. “It’s not five or six pairs of pants. You don’t need a lot to look good. You might just need these few pieces and every season you come back and collect a few more.” It’s a strategy he’s learned about and adopted since joining Alex Mill, and it’ll affect what you see with every coming season: “[Each collection] will be a buildup of the last season. It’s about taking things that we love and not abandoning them, but [rather] tweaking them. For spring, we have this short jacket; in the fall, you’ll see it in a new color and in denim. Sometimes we’ll look at something and [decide] we don’t tweak it—it’s okay to not have to change things every season, because it’s much simpler that way.”
Sikhounmuong’s time off after J.Crew has had an influence on how he approaches this collection too. “I remember thinking every single day how I loved how much time I had, and [thinking about] how to maintain that once I took a job,” he says. “The idea of these clothes is that, hopefully, they’ll save time—you don’t have to overthink what you’re going to wear, so you [can] do other things. You just get up, put it on, and don’t overthink it.”
In all of Sikhounmuong’s design work, his aim is to create pieces that are approachable and accessible. One of Alex Mill’s mottos is “uniforms for individuals”—the brand interprets “uniform” not as clothes that makes everyone look the same, but rather as outfits that simplify your life. Individuality comes in through small customizable elements incorporated into the design: pins that can be added or removed, hearts stitched between buttons on a blouse that can be revealed or hidden, ties on a trench coat that can be closed or left hanging. The pricing of the collection also aligns with that goal: Everything’s under $200, with most pieces between $35 and $175.
Fans of Sikhounmuong’s work will be happy to know that one of his signatures made it into his first Alex Mill collection. “It’s funny—every time I show this stuff to people, the shirts always come up,” he says. “I always love a great shirt, whether it’s vintage shirt or men’s or oversized.” The Alex Mill version of the classic button-down are pretty standard when it comes to the cut, but are set apart by “very subtle points of designs” (like the hearts between buttons) that bring an emotional element to them.
“These pieces are built to fold into your own existing closet—a lot of these pieces are ones that are going to be in there forever, hopefully,” he says. “I think so much of this stuff is meant to bring joy. I get that that phrase has sort of been played a lot, but honestly, it’s so true; there are so many things out there that are serious, whether it’s clothing or whatever, and it’s always nice to see something that just makes you smile. It’s just that emotional connection that makes you want to buy something or participate in the brand.”
Alex Mill’s Sikhounmuong-designed collection drops today on the brand’s website, as well as retailers like Nordstrom, Barneys New York, and Goop. Check out the full lookbook and product offering below.