May 13, 2009

J. Crew (New York)

While Abercrombie flounders, another brand with a similarly preppy heritage is working wonders. Under the leadership of spurned Gap CEO Mickey Drexler, J. Crew has completely shed its '90s-era identity as a catalog company hawking affordable, bland button-downs and khakis, to become a retail power player, a staple of Michelle Obama's high-low wardrobe with its colorful, up-to-date, fresh yet ladylike women's styles and complementary accessories; as well as a go-to designer for simple, well-priced wedding gowns and bridesmaids' dresses. Their little-sister brand, Madewell, is beloved by youngsters and fashion writers alike for its slim yet rugged, classic yet on-trend, Americana-inspired selection of rumpled jeans, stompy boots, and soft cotton shirtdresses. 

And now, the J. Crew juggernaut is expanding its hold on Soho, with its third-ever freestanding men's store opening next door to the much-hailed Topshop colossus. With its separate suiting department, antique furnishings, and restored original storefront, the new shop could be the middle-class man's answer to Tom Ford's uptown palace.

Now for a dose of reality: In spite of the critical raves, same-store sales were down 13% in the fourth quarter of 2008, leaving the company with a net loss of $13.5 million for that quarter. But Drexler and other execs took no bonus for the year, and say they're looking to make long-term investments in the company's future with developments like the men's store, a separate children's catalog, and a new in-store concierge service.
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