I’ve spent the last two years and change reporting on the tarnished retail legend Leslie “Les” Wexner for a book I’m co-writing about Victoria’s Secret. Even though our book is about Wexner and his company, one of his greatest rivals, Millard “Mickey” Drexler, the former Gap and J.Crew C.E.O., comes up in conversations with my writing partner almost daily.
Anyone who has worked with or around these two architects of the American mall knows that they are, in almost every way conceivable, polar opposites. Very few of Wexner’s employees felt they had any real, personal connection to him. Those who left the business, for whatever reason, often never heard from him again. Mickey, on the other hand, thrives on connection. He still talks regularly with people who worked for him 30 years ago. Even people who he fired, or who left in a huff, or whatever. He wants there to be a dialogue.
But more importantly, Les and Mickey’s approaches to shopkeeping are also similarly divergent. Mickey’s general thesis—that it all comes down to originality and point of view—has largely outshined Les’s view, which is essentially about tricking the customer into thinking something is good through discounts and retail theater, rather than, well, making it good. Mickey built fashion brands, Les built store brands.