By  on March 16, 2007

AUSTIN, Tex. — Madewell has another home in the Lone Star State.

The J. Crew casual clothing concept opened its third store — and second in Texas — last week at The Domain, a new open-air shopping center here. The first Madewell launched in August at Dallas' NorthPark Center, and the second in September at Westfield Century City shopping center in Los Angeles. Madewell store openings are set for May at The Mall at Short Hills, in New Jersey, and in Las Vegas in the Fashion Show Mall just off the Strip.

J. Crew chairman and chief executive officer Millard "Mickey'' Drexler, in town for the opening, said Austin, the state capital and home of the University of Texas, is "a cool city with a great vibe…We went [to Texas] on good faith. There's no big strategy. Texas just loves fashion and music."

The stores average 2,500 to 3,000 square feet, and the Madewell unit is 3,000 square feet. Products are priced 20 to 30 percent less than J. Crew. Denim ranges from $79.50 to $115, and an Eliot cotton plaid dress goes for $115.

In the Austin unit, the design team opted for exposed support beams and air ducts. "The priority is the merchandise, the feel, the music," Drexler said. "It's not necessary to overdesign, overarchitect. There's no need to disguise."

There are sculptures made from sticks — discards from nurseries and wood pieces from area parks. The branches are fastened with torn strips of denim and set on smooth gray river rocks. Framed concert posters from the early days of local music meccas such as Antone's and The Continental Club are layered on a shelf. And stretching from rack to ceiling is a giant corkboard dotted with live moss and banana leaves, sketchbook tear-outs, artfully balled cotton T-shirts and fabric swatches. Drexler said these were the inspirations for the spring collection.

The competition is "retailers that emotionally connect to hip women and girls, anyone that does that," Drexler said.

Logos are noticeably missing from the clothing, which sets the brand apart from Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy and American Eagle, even though the attitude is similarly casual-cool layers. Every few feet there are solid and madras plaid sundresses, shown layered under hoodies and jersey-knit scarves and over bikini tops and ribbed tanks.Women with Austin-centric style are not that different from their counterparts in New York or Los Angles, Drexler said, adding, "Though I have noticed a few more boots" pointing out flat-footed riding boots and the pointy-toed cowboy version.

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