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See Madewell's First Collection Under Its New Head of Design

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Madewell has revealed its spring 2016 collection, the brand’s first under new head of design Joyce Lee. The designer is a Madewell vet, with seven years at the company under her belt, albeit in accessories. Lee replaces Somsack Sikhounmuong, who was snatched up by parent company J.Crew back in June. Sikhoumuong garnered amazing growth for Madewell; following his debut spring 2014 collection, the brand posted a 35% sales increase for that fiscal year (J.Crew grew just 4% in the same time period). The following seasons showed similar results: while J.Crew floundered, Madewell flourished, and finally the parent company scooped up the designer and reassigned him to J.Crew womenswear.

Apparel is new territory for Lee, but she told Racked at a preview of the collection that she feels confident in how well she knows the customer's taste following years with the company. "When I started, it was just two boots, two bags, a few scarves," she explained of the growth she's seen in her time with the brand. Today, the accessories division includes shoes from sneakers to pumps, a full jewelry range, and everyday bags like the wildly popular Transport Tote (which, for spring, comes in a new east-west orientation).

"I'm putting a little more of a feminine hand" into the collection, Lee explains as we walk through outfits that pair open-back dresses with flat, lace-up sandals and off-the-shoulder eyelet blouses with wide-leg denim. Jeans — and so-called "denim dressing" — have been a major vehicle for Madewell's impressive growth. Cleaner washes are an update for spring, including paper white, true black, and "different levels of indigo." There's also a collab with B-Sides, a vintage denim collection we named one of the most exciting jeans brands around. Non-denim pants (like the pair you'll see in slide nine, above, one of Lee's favorite looks) are another big push for the brand, as are "pretty, feminine tops." The designer explains that they know their shopper has her jeans, and they're giving her some new styling ideas. "I think what we're really good at is giving our customer a nod to what's happening out there [in fashion], but keeping it familiar," she said. "We give the girl what she knows but continue to push it forward, to make it feel exciting and fresh." Check out the entire collection, which also flaunts an expanded monogramming program (see slides four and five for more of that), in the gallery above.