By Beth Kowitt, writer
FORTUNE -- Retailing icon Mickey Drexler is joining the board of Warby Parker, a move that adds gravitas to the three-year-old online eyewear maker as it expands into brick-and-mortar stores.
Drexler's directorship solidifies the informal relationship he had already developed with the company's co-CEOs, Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa. The J.Crew honcho has been having lunch regularly with Blumenthal and Gilboa and advised the two on scaling their business. He invested in Warby Parker in what Blumenthal says was "a meaningful way" earlier this year.
The investment came alongside backing from American Express (AXP) in the company's latest round of funding, with Drexler joining the likes of Warby investors General Catalyst Partners and Tiger Global Management. As Fortune's Dan Primack has noted, investor interest in Warby is "a large score by most any VC standard, and massive for a maker of consumer goods."
Drexler, whose only other directorship outside J.Crew is a high-profile one at Apple (AAPL), can lend Warby Parker his expertise in the traditional apparel business, along with a mindset of rethinking what retail can be. Warby Parker, which started by selling low-priced yet trendy eyeglasses online, has opened up four retail stores in almost four months.
Drexler is deliberate with his time, so Blumenthal and Gilboa view his assent to join the board as a big nod of approval. "Mickey's always been excited about the role of technology in fashion and retail," Blumenthal explains, "and we are certainly playing a part of that future."
The Warby Parker co-CEOs and Drexler first met in the spring of 2011. When Blumenthal and Gilboa came by the J.Crew office, Drexler got on the loudspeaker (yes, there is such a thing at J.Crew) and asked his employees to shoot him an email telling him their brand of eyewear. Within a few minutes he had all Warby wearers come by for feedback. It was a good sign that so many J.Crew employees -- a fashionable bunch -- were wearing the brand.
Besides retail and technology, Blumenthal and Drexler found that they had another common passion: spinning classes at SoulCycle. Blumenthal calls Drexler the "Godfather of SoulCycle."
At J.Crew, CEO and Chairman Millard Drexler waited seven weeks to inform the board of his discussions to sell the company, exposing the often-overlooked issue that many corporate boards do not enforce internal transparency.
By Eleanor Bloxham, contributor
If you run a division, how long do you think you could wait to tell your bosses you were in talks to sell your division to another company and still hold your job? Would MOREDec 21, 2010 9:08 AM ET
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