Tuesday, October 5

J.Crew Men's Shop

Oh no, not another post about J.Crew! I know, I'm a bit obsessed. Not necessarily because I'm a consumer of J.Crew, more because I'm an admirer of the marketing.

J.Crew has it down, they have their game ON, particularly this season, particularly for men. The brand has been constantly improving, and always with an eye on the brand experience be it in-store, on the website, or via a catalogue. Every season they refresh, and this current Fall season brings new looks, new merchandising, new store organization, and and even some partner brands.

But it wasn't always that way for the brand which has seen its share of hard times. Here my friend and colleague Andy Levy reports in again on our mutual admiration for J.Crew, with a focus on its men's line.

What's your experience, Andy? Jim.

J.Crew has always been on my radar, 1) since I have had a history in retail women’s clothing in the 80s and early 90s, and 2) because I have seen a real transformation since Frank Muytjens has taken over as new men’s-wear design chief in 2008. It has also been a subject of Jim’s book "The Experience Effect" and the subject of my last guest post on Jim’s blog September 1st.

J.Crew has come a very long way since its roots as Popular Merchandise back in the late 40s. In the 80s the owners of the company saw the growth of catalogue retailers like Lands’ End and L.L.Bean make a killing. Popular Merchandise wanted to replicate that success with leisurewear similar to Ralph Lauren, but for a lower priced market. In January 1983 the J.Crew catalogue was born.

The enterprising new retail catalogue separated itself by showing models in casual settings and focusing on how garments draped on models with close-ups of fabrics to exemplify the textile quality. Throughout the mid 80s J.Crew saw a jump in sales from $3 million to over $100 million! By the late 80s when the catalogue business was seeing a big drop in revenues the company decided to expand into retail.

In 1989 the first retail store was opened at the South Street Seaport in NYC and like the real-life cartoon characters of Disney, J.Crew came off the pages into the real world. The retail climate in the 90s saw many hot and cold cycles and by the middle of the decade an increase of postal and paper costs curtailed catalogue distribution and lead to a push for even further retail chain growth.

Management turmoil caused J. Crew to languish in the late 90s and into the early 21st Century, and that's when Frank Muytjens came on board along with other members of the design and management team.

Working several seasons in advance, the crew started to transform the label, turning it from just casual clothing to an entire range of men's wear -- you can now pick up items that span from casual to near formal, along with a bunch of accessories for work and play. But all with the quintessential J.Crew feel.

With the opening of concept shop Liquor Store and even more dedicated locations designed specifically for men, J.Crew entered the world of form-fitted tailoring, setting it apart from its competition, and certainly worlds apart from Lands End.

Just this past year, in a seismic change, the retail stores decided to carry “third party brands” to make the brand experience even more well-rounded with complementary offerings. The line has never seen better days, and it is such a pleasure to shop, regardless of the channel.

At a time when fashion and retail are still suffering, here's a brand with an experience that continues to deliver. It's not easy to entice men with fashion, and J.Crew has done a bang up job throughout its transformation. Congratulations.

- Andy Levy

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