By  on March 6, 2007

Madewell, the brand born out of the vision of Millard "Mickey" Drexler and an old workwear label he purchased about five years ago, is becoming more of a reality.

After being introduced by the J. Crew Group six months ago, the Madewell personality has been sharpened, the winning product has been identified and losers culled from the collection. A transactional Web site is expected to go live in early 2008, and the hunt for retail real estate is intensifying. Seven stores should be operating by the end of this year, and finding a downtown Manhattan location for an opening this fall or next year is a priority.

In an unusual move, a temporary boutique opens today on the 11th floor of J. Crew's New York headquarters at 770 Broadway and Ninth Street. The 1,500-square-foot space carries the full range of merchandise, but spotlights spring bestsellers " garment dyed five-pocket jeans, drop-waisted jumpers, Italian leather boots and totes, raw-edged pima cotton V-necks and vintage stripe Ts. Heretofore, these products were available only at the chain's two existing doors at Westfield Century City shopping center in Los Angeles and at NorthPark Center in Dallas. It's New Yorkers' first taste of the women's casual brand, which is edgier than most.

"We wanted to have some fun with this, so we're opening a little shop and inviting friends, customers, fashionistas and associates," said Drexler, chairman and chief executive of J. Crew Group, in an exclusive interview, during which he provided a progress report on Madewell.

The temporary shop is also a ploy to generate some East Coast hype, and get the J. Crew Group team " and possibly some Wall Street analysts " more tuned into how the brand is gathering steam, in advance of a permanent New York store. "Realistically, we'll have a location selected by the end of this year," Drexler said. "We want to be downtown, in SoHo or TriBeCa or the West Village. We want to get the right location. We are definitely in no hurry to get this moving.'

Elsewhere around the country, Madewell store openings are set for The Domain in Austin, Tex., on Friday; in May at The Mall at Short Hills, in New Jersey, and in Las Vegas in the Fashion Show Mall just off the Strip.

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