In Conversation with Frank Muytjens | Part 2: A Dutchman in New York
by Yoeri Khyrian Jonker / posted on 27/08/2015
After the interview was finished, it seemed that Mr. Muytjens still had time for a quick lunch. He said he knew a place nearby called LaFayette, one of his favourites in the city, and asks me if I had time to grab a quick bite so we could continue our conversation elsewhere. It’s one of those moments that just wondrously happen; an opportunity to experience the ‘non-work’ Frank Muytjens that I had seen glimpses of on his Instragram profile.
After the elevator brought us to street level, we exit the headquarters at 770 Broadway and walk in the direction of LaFayette Street. If you wouldn’t have known any better, you would say that Mr. Muytjens was a born and raised New Yorker. He has no problem navigating the streets of the city – as he mentioned during the first part of the interview – and on our way to LaFayette we coincidentally bump into one of J. Crew’s regular models. After a quick chat, we continue in the direction of LaFayette and enter the restaurant.
Even in this restaurant he’s a familiar face, as the waiter immediately recognises him and sits us down at what is undeniably the best table. Not wanting to take up too much of his time, I ask him how much time I have with him, at which he says that we won’t need to rush. The ‘non-work’ Mr. Muytjens has arrived.
Do you feel like your life in the city is different from your life in Hillsdale?
I feel like I’m more ‘on’ in New York. You always look at your watch and have something in the schedule. But as soon as I get in the car with Dutch and arrive at my home in Hillsdale, I take off my watch, put on my old clothes and immediately stop thinking about all the meetings and fashion stuff. It’s such a luxury to not have a schedule for two days and not have to worry about time. Surely I check my phone every now and then, but I try not to.
What I really love about living upstate though is that I’m completely disconnected from everything in the city, and that it’s its own little world. Don’t get me wrong: of course I love to have friends over, but sometimes it’s nice to be a bit of an introvert. And you know, I like that part as well. To not talk for a whole afternoon and just listen to music. When I’m in Hillsdale I prefer listening to classical music, because there’s no words grabbing your attention and because it can fade into the background. That’s also something different about Hillsdale apposed to the noise in New York. You wake up in silence, and nothing but the sound of birds to start the day with. Especially now in spring, those small things make me very happy, and they remind me a bit of home.
When you started living in Hillsdale, how did you approach the decoration of that place?
It’s an area with a lot of antique stores, and I knew about most of the stores from visits to friends of mine who already lived there. So just by seeking them out and gradually adding pieces I got started with the process. The place itself didn’t need much work, because it had just been renovated by the people I bought it from. The man was a contractor / carpenter / furniture maker, so he did everything himself. And then his girlfriend grew vegetables in the garden for Martha Stewart’s magazine at that point, so both the garden and the interior were taken care of when I bought it.
I loved the idea of buying that house and one day settle there; to not flip it and then sell it again, but as an investment. My own little project, one that’s still ongoing. As there’s no more snow and the garden has become available again, I can start thinking about planting stuff.
But furniture wise? Did you fill up the house the moment you got it?
No, it took forever. I didn’t have a sofa for half a year, and didn’t have a table for at least a year because I couldn’t find the right one. I did have some chairs, and it was fun. I still remember the first time I walked through the house, it felt so exciting to start this little project.
Was that feeling any different at the time you moved to Williamsburg?
Well, when I moved to Williamsburg I moved for Dutch, my dog, and had a lot of stuff already. But I guess that still happened the same way. It’s very transitional, probably the same way I design for J. Crew. The new and the old, the juxtaposition, of antiques and clean and modern and how you put that together. That’s similar to the way I approach everything. Like a denim jacket with a pair of dress pants.
Talking about denim: do you remember your first love?
Honestly, I used to hate denim when I was in art school, because everyone was wearing it. I really had to get used to it, and it was something I had to get out of my system because I used to be in art school and wanted to be my own individual and have my own style. Probably right after I graduated, and I was ready to make some commitments, I borrowed a friend’s 501s and really liked them. So from there on it started going. Plus I don’t feel like the 80ies were a great time for denim anyways, that might have had something to do with it.
After 21 years, what do you like most about New York?
I can appreciate the high line very much. It’s a park, an old subway rail, Piet Oudolf did all the landscaping and you have the most beautiful sunset. I love hanging out there, and really love the vibe in Williamsburg, just the vibe that you get from that place. And I said this before as well: I love going back to Hillsdale on a Friday and then, when I go back to New York on a Sunday, see the skyline again. It just fills me with joy to be able to see that every time.
But what I perhaps love the most about New York is that the people feel so supportive. They really want you to do well and be successful, and they’re open to that newness that I feel is as much a part of J. Crew as it is of me. I guess I just always felt appreciated here.
Read part one of our “In Conversation with Frank Muytjens” here on The Denim Daily, where we talk about the magic behind the process of creating a J. Crew collection and how his Dutch origins have a major influence on that. Also check out Frank’s curation of his favourite Instagram channels here.