Friday, October 23, 2015

Check Out J.Crew For Fall - And Go Visit The Times Square Store Too

Every time I walk into the J.Crew store in Hong Kong's IFC Mall, I instantly have a smile on my face. Between beautiful jeans and khakis hang silk shirts in rich patterns and colors, blazers in flannel and herringbone wools, stripy T-shirts with or without embellishment, gingham shirts, pleated silk and faux leather skirts, party shoes with glitter and comfortable pointy flats, thick cashmere in zesty brights, and merino wool in basic and seasonal colors. Everything in the store can be worn with everything. Sporty mixes with sweet, and sexy mixes with classic fashion. You can dress here for school pick up, a date with a new boyfriend, tea at the Mandarin, a walk through the forest, or a meeting at work with the accountant. There is no other brand which can so successfully get you through every situation in life as J.Crew. And it is such good fun to go into their shops - the interior is light and bright, the dressing rooms are comfortable. Moreover, the sales teams are always helpful and knowledgeable, not pushy, and most of all really nice.

However, J.Crew's sales have been disappointing for a while now and the media has reported the complaints of a number of J.Crew's vocal doubters with more than a little bit of schadenfreude. The complaints are often about change. J.Crew is too fashion forward, it doesn't offer the same plain khakis I used to buy when I was in college. There are too many sequins on the clothes. I can find the same stuff at Forever 21 for a lower price. The good thing about J.Crew is that its customers feel a real sense of ownership and connection to the company, the bad thing about this familiarity is that the complaints are often more whiny than they are practical. Angry customers love having a go at the J.Crew Collection which they think expensive and unsuitable for sensible lifestyles. My advice would be to walk past the offending sequins and pick up some jeans and T-shirts from the next rack, but that's taking the complaints at face value, and that is not going to satisfy any of the naysayers.

Frankly, I think what's really happened is that J.Crew turned from a company with an anonymous behind-the-scenes design collective into a company led by a strong, articulate six foot tall woman with nutty eyeglasses and bright red lips. Jenna is a style icon to many (and me) but an oddly mismatched New Yorker to others. J.Crew used to be democratically all American, but now it may be perceived as all New York.

But that perception is wrong and and plain ridiculous. All the basic, well priced T-shirts, jeans, stripy shirts, merino jumpers, blazers, and quilted vests are still there. God forbid one may have to walk past a few sequins to find them (in the beautifully decorated surroundings of a J.Crew store, rather than the bare, uninspired walls that will greet customers at Forever 21). Those basic pieces will also have design integrity, developed by a dedicated team of designers to be part of a cohesive collection, rather than copied from some other brand and slapped on the rack without conviction. The shapes and silhouettes are still as classic as ever and can be worn as easily with Bass loafers as 20 years ago.

There are very few retailers out there raking in the bucks in this economy, but it seems that is not enough of an explanation for industry analysts. Mickey Drexler has promised investors that J.Crew is addressing the sensible brigade's concerns, and that stores will be reflecting this adjustment soon. I sure hope Micky is not thinking of scaling all that exuberant fun right back down - J.Crew has a wonderfully distinctive personality in an industry full of indistinguishable duds and that is something worth fighting for. Remember Dress Normal at the Gap? Look what basic has done for them. Maybe J.Crew does need to do a better job of informing their customers that they do still have all the basics in store alongside the fashion, but to give up on all that wonderful character and sparkle would be a crying shame.

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