By  on May 23, 2007

J. Crew is breaking out of its mold.

The company is rolling out smaller stores, each with a look, assortment and nameplate customized to fit the tone and tastes of affluent locations and resort towns.

"The point on all these stores is that we tailor-make the store to fit the specialness of the communities," Millard "Mickey" Drexler, chairman and chief executive officer of J. Crew Group, told WWD. "We are designing stores to have the same feel as the community, and the way they would want it to feel. It's not a cookie-cutter store."

It's a strategy that J. Crew has kept quiet, but actually tested three years ago with the "J. Crew at-the-beach" shop in East Hampton, N.Y. A handful of units have opened since, including J. Crew at-the-beach shops in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Naples, Fla., and another in Carmel, Calif., called J. Crew by-the-sea.

In Santa Fe, a unit was downsized to become more of a resort store.

On Friday, J. Crew will open J. Crew-on-Elm in New Canaan, Conn. It's a 4,668-square-foot location at 24 Elm Street, in the heart of the village, featuring what the company considers the best of the J. Crew Women's and Men's collection including shoes and accessories. "It's just a very affluent town. We consider it J. Crew country," Drexler said.

J. Crew at-the-beach will open in Southampton, N.Y., at the end of July at 86 Main Street, and the company is in talks to open additional locally flavored shops in Aspen, Colo., and Wilmington, N.C. "There are a few others that we are negotiating on," Drexler noted. "We are not after every marketplace. There's not a big list of locations."

Still, the strategy does reflect the brand's appetite for expansion, but to orchestrate it in a more creative way that could be more appealing to communities that have tired of the usual retail chains descending on their neighborhoods, eliminating the mom-and-pop stores and the small town flavor along the way. It also reflects efforts at J. Crew, as Drexler said, to become less East and West Coast centric, and adaptable to wider territory.

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