It’s finally here and DRG contributor Alison Bishop has given it a thorough going over. Here’s the verdict on J Crew, London-style…
It’s hard to find a brand that does classic preppy style with an insouciant mix of androgyny better than J Crew. And now it’s finally arrived in London with a trio of ‘flagship’ or ‘jewel box’ stores.
We first heard the news that J Crew had settled on Regent Street for its all-singing-all-dancing London debut about a year ago (what’s good enough for Burberry is good enough for J Crew, as the latter snapped up the former’s old home on London’s hottest tourist retail hotspot).
There are also J Crew boutiques focusing on the brand’s premium collections at Brompton Cross (women) and Lamb’s Conduit Street (men) – and this is where it starts to get interesting. These ‘jewel box’ stores (their words not mine) are solely to showcase and sell the higher-end Collection pieces shown during New York Fashion Week, which elevate the brand’s status here considerably.
“It’s a high-low mix,” Tom Mora, head of womenswear told me at our Regent Street store walk-through. “There are casual elements mixed in with our Collection pieces so that customers can find inspirational pieces among what they actually came in looking for,” he says.
It’s one of J Crew’s largest flagships and affords the merchandising team more room to experiment with different storytelling ideas around product areas. “But each store is different,” says Mora. “We like to reflect the neighborhood with what we put inside. The merchandising is intended to inspire and surprise our customers. We take a boutique by colour approach and play around with what works. There are statues and books dotted around too – they give more texture and tie the colour stories together so beautifully,” he says.
I like the townhouse mood of the merchandising. Upstairs there are rooms dedicated to different product categories littered with breakout sofas, books on cultural topics and quirky art sculptures. You breeze through the cashmere room that has a kaleidoscope display of sweaters lined up like regimented Post-it notes, and it’s clear the VM team give the same attention to detail to a shirting rack that includes mirror image rails of both chambray and Liberty fabric prints shirts. The spacious entrance area – where for launch there’s a fun ticker-tape decorated London telephone box housing mannequins – is where there are the most ‘pops of Collection pieces’ mingling in with say, a Ludlow wool tailored jacket that has the same cut and quality as one of the made-to-measure men’s suits.
Jewellery is a major statement for J Crew’s signature girl-boy look, and I love the vintage glass-top display cases that house the range of coloured sparkly gems. There is a real antiques-market appeal from the deep drawers – you need to ask an assistant to help – and there’s more than a touch of Camden Passage about the whole experience.
There are rules of dressing according to Mora and J Crew doesn’t do trends, it adheres to the classic codes of masculine/feminine styles that are “mixed up a bit”. “We love casual looks pepped up by more luxury pieces,” says Mora. “And in London that means streetwear elements too.”
But it remains to be seen if we Brits will be happy to pay J Crew’s eye-watering UK prices, which seem to be on a par with US prices, like-for-like. Mora wouldn’t be drawn on the J Crew pricing policy – “not my department” – and it’s certainly emerged as a bone of contention with British bloggers and press judging by other reports. There is a premium pitch for the brand in a crowded aspirational-luxe market. Taking one of this season’s hero Collection pieces, The Ratti Tile coat at £1,200, as a case in point, the print and design are clearly stylish and special, but for a wool garment, I’m not sure four figures are warranted. The high prices are limited to premium and signature pieces. I love the silk jacquard tailored trousers, they signify J Crew style for me, but at £500+, I’m hesitant.
J Crew’s London strategy is a layered approach that works well to appeal to different spending levels of its customers. Those who like to shop hi-lo and be inspired; or fashionistas that can buy into the premium pieces and be ahead of the crowd. Whichever camp you’re in, J Crew hopes that it can all be translated into online sales, and a global audience via London.
[Images: Alison Bishop; J Crew]