By  on May 7, 2007

NEW YORK — J. Press is making the old school look new again.

The Ivy League retailer may have spent the last century dressing New England blue bloods, but its new flagship store, which opened last Wednesday at 380 Madison Avenue, is anything but stodgy.

The impressive 4,000-square-foot space—complete with crisp white walls, dark hardwood floors and sleek modern furniture—marks a bold departure from the company's old and somewhat stuffy location on 44th Street.

"This new flagship store is the culmination of a broad effort to update the J. Press brand," said Hiroaki Sumi, president and CEO. "We've taken steps to breathe life into the brand—to make it more exciting—and the new store is representative of that."

J. Press was founded in 1902 on the grounds of Yale University by Jacobi Press and was purchased in 1986 by Onward Kashiyama, a $2.4 billion Japanese apparel company. Onward bought the license for J. Press in Japan in 1974, marking the first American clothing company to license in Japan.

The street-level interior of the new store—strategically located near neighboring Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart and Jos. A. Bank—features classic moldings and authentic black-and-white photographs of collegiate crew teams that pay tribute to the label's preppie heritage, but chic white leather sofas and stylish silver fixtures nod to the future of the brand.

"It's about the juxtaposition of old and new," said Doug Lloyd of Lloyd (+ co), who designed the overall store concept and developed an extensive branding strategy for J. Press. "We wanted to go back, look at the heritage of the brand and take what was unique about it, and bring that classic Ivy League style forward."

Situated at the corner of Madison Avenue and 47th Street, which many refer to as "Men's Wear Row," the flagship—expected to generate sales of $1,500 a square foot—is also the first to house the label's updated collection of sportswear and tailored clothing under new design director Mark McNairy, who was hired two years ago to rejuvenate the brand.

McNairy has injected what he calls a "James Bond meets Herbert Walker Bush" sense of style into the label. "It's the George Bush Sr. Ivy League attitude with the style of James Bond," said McNairy.

That new attitude has translated into updated takes on the label's signature suits, shirts, sport coats and accessories. McNairy will introduce the brand's first-ever slim pant in charcoal flannel and a black, two-button, darted, corduroy blazer for fall '07. "Since the birth of the Ivy League in 1954, J. Press has never had a black jacket or suit," McNairy said.

Other highlights from the revamped collection include the classic skull-and-crossbones tie but added to a paisley background in new vibrant colors, an authentic Reyn Spooner jacket in J. Press's signature sack-sport-coat style; classic oxford shirts—once only offered in white and blue—in cool shades of peach and celery green, and skinnier versions of the label's classic bermuda short, complete with a cell-phone pocket.

J. Press retail price points are about $80 to $190 for shirts, $345 to $595 for sport coats, $550 to $1,200 for suits, $80 to $245 for trousers and roughly $60 to $98 for ties.

Although the company would not divulge volume figures, Sumi said the brand's performance in the U.S. has been steady thanks in part to a group of loyal customers whose fathers and grandfathers have been shopping at J. Press for years.

"What we would like to do now is generate growth by introducing the brand to a new group of people while maintaining our core business," said Sumi. "And what better place to get the most exposure from people all over the world than Madison Avenue."

The Madison Avenue flagship is the company's fourth U.S. retail location—other sites include New Haven, Conn., Cambridge, Mass., and Washington, D.C., as well as 150 shop-in-shops in Japan—with more on the way, including a freestanding flagship in Tokyo.

"We are planning to open further freestanding stores in the U.S., and this new flagship store in New York will serve as the template for that expansion," said Sumi, who did not divulge when or where these openings would take place.

Increased exposure is also being sought through advertising as part of an extensive branding effort by Lloyd. The brand has run print ads in Men's Vogue, Esquire and The Wall Street Journal in the last year to implement its direct consumer marketing strategy. The company has also cleaned up packaging, hangtags and the old J. Press logo.

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