By  on June 5, 2009

Madewell is still “a work in progress,” but there are plans to launch e-commerce in the first quarter of next year, Millard “Mickey” Drexler, chairman and chief executive of J. Crew Group, said at the retailer’s shareholders’ meeting Thursday.

“Once we go online, it will be a big unlock” for the brand, Drexler said. J. Crew Group launched Madewell for women’s casual clothing, footwear and accessories in fall 2006 and has 14 shops, with the latest opening in East Hampton, N.Y., on Memorial Day weekend. J. Crew has been contemplating taking Madewell online for a while, but has held back as the assortment continues to be refined.

For fall, 95 percent of Madewell denim will be priced at less than $100. “The sweet spot is $60 to $100, not $100 and above,” Drexler said. Considering that denim is a major category for Madewell, the pricing shift represents “a big move,” he said. Drexler has been “very pleased” with Madewell, though he recently acknowledged the business got “much too basic in knits and underbought fashion and novelty.”

For the group overall, Drexler cited as growth areas jewelry, wedding and Crewcuts; possibly adding more Collection and men’s stores, and continuing to “curate” items from iconic brands such as Timex, Mackintosh, Red Wing and Jack Purcell to give a different dimension to the offering.

Drexler breezed through the meeting, reiterating several of his mantras for the $1.43 billion business, like “We don’t want to be the biggest, just the best we can be….Fresh inventory is the lifeline of the business. The worst thing is to have expired milk, eggs or butter on the shelves….Quality and styling is the religion….Customers want scarcity, uniqueness and cool.”

Drexler also said J. Crew is micromanaging expenses and, after recent layoffs, has fewer layers, resulting in people contributing more. The company is slashing $40 million in annual costs. “We are not looking at any additional head-count reductions,” said Jim Scully, chief financial officer.

Last week, J. Crew reported that first-quarter profits slid 33 percent, but was commended by analysts for handily beating expectations, increasing total sales and executing strong inventory management.

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