By and  on October 22, 2007

NEW YORK — The merchant prince has turned his sights on men’s wear.

Millard (Mickey) Drexler, chairman and CEO of J. Crew and one of the industry’s most legendary figures, revealed that he’s currently shopping for a location to open the company’s first stand-alone men’s store.

“We’re taking a more-leadership role in men’s wear,” he told DNR last week. “We think it’s an important opportunity in the marketplace. We’ve done it with women’s wear and accessories, and we’re trying to make the same impact in men’s over the next year or so.” 

As a result, Drexler said he’s “looking for a men’s shop—a men’s store is on our wish list.” 

Since joining the specialty store chain in 2003, Drexler has taken the company public and pushed the envelope in terms of merchandise, offering a range of price points and a varied assortment of casualwear with “a twist of dress.” He has also spearheaded the opening of several new concepts: Madewell, a women’s wear chain, Crewcuts, for children’s wear, and several smaller stores, each localized to fit the tastes of affluent locations such as the “J. Crew at-the-beach” in East Hampton, N.Y., Santa Barbara, Calif., and Naples, Fla., and J. Crew by-the-sea in Carmel, Calif. 

Next on his agenda is men’s wear. “We have no location yet, but we know we can articulate J. Crew Men’s in its own store and express it in its own environment.” 

He said the company has just started searching for a site and has no timetable on when the first store will open, although it won’t be as soon as holiday. “We’re looking for the right real estate, not just any real estate.” 

Drexler said the idea for a men’s-only store arose from the success the company has had merchandising men’s wear on separate floors in some of its larger stores. J. Crew operates 186 retail stores and 53 factory outlets, as well as catalogs and a Web site. 

At the annual meeting this June, Drexler said the men’s business at the J. Crew stores “has had a dramatic turnaround in the last year,” and is successful in appealing to “a cool, quirky, casual guy.”

Last week at the company’s spring 2008 fashion preview, Drexler said he was “very excited” about the offerings for next year. “We see out there [in the market] people are paying a lot of money for their clothes. Ours are made in the best plants in the world with the finest quality, at a fraction of the price.” 

Although he knows that “men don’t go as far out as women” in changing their wardrobes on a seasonal basis, he still believes the men’s business at the company can be bigger. Toward that end, J. Crew will move to communicate more effectively with its male customers to further bolster sales. Men’s wear currently accounts for around 20 percent of the company’s annual volume of $1.24 billion. “We’re not changing the product as much, but paying more attention to how we can communicate more effectively. We need to do some other things to get it on a more-accelerated growth path.” 
For holiday, Drexler said he is not making any predictions on how business will fare. “It’ll be as good as the goods are and, when they’re good, we’ll do as well as anyone. But I don’t know how high the tide will be. It’s more about product and the delivery of that product.” 

At the preview, Todd Snyder, men’s design director, described the collection as “focused on the 15 best items every man wants and should have.” That includes cardigans, the new Montauk chino, the classic broken-in chino in new fabrics—such as Easter-chick yellow or vintage seersucker—and a trench coat, among other items. 

Overall, the cuts were tailored so the silhouette is “cleaner, more classic,” Snyder said. Pants were slimmer and a bit shorter, evoking the 1950s cool of Paul Newman, especially when paired with white V-neck T’s “like your grandfather wore,” he added. 

“We took typically ‘fall’ details, like tartans or black, and reworked them into spring.” This translated into short-sleeved tartan dress shirts, faded black chinos that were “an instant classic—number-one best seller” when introduced last year—and cardigans in cotton cashmere. 

White was infused throughout the collection, in crisp slacks and shorts, on a retro club collar and as a dressy linen blazer with metallic threads to add texture. 

Snyder said, “We want to dress every guy, 18 to 80, from the beach to the wedding. This collection was sort of surf & turf, with clothes to wear at the beach in the Hamptons and at the country club for a more sophisticated look. 

“Guys are starting to dress up a bit. You see them on the subway or downtown wearing ties and it’s refreshing.” 

“Collector’s items,” a line of more luxurious garments at significantly higher price points, is aimed at the “ultimate connoisseur who appreciates quality and style.” These limited-edition, hand-numbered pieces such as leather jackets and hand-detailed items, include drum-dyed leather belts, shawl-collar knit cardigans with metallic thread, hand-patched denim and pants playfully referred to in-house as “Jackson Pollock jeans,” wiped by hand with white paint for a vintage feel. 

The “Collector’s items” will be sold in the catalog and online. When they were first offered for fall 2007, their success surprised the company. 

“Guys are willing to maneuver online and not get embarrassed by shopping. I’ll spend an hour online but not in a store,” Snyder said. 

The collection reverts to more classic looks from the 1950s. “We took the preppie, nerd look and made it hip,” Snyder said, mentioning accessories such as the “engineer’s” silk knit ties, real vintage straw hats and aviator sunglasses, made by eyewear company Selima, which are based on a military-issued model. Selima will also produce optical models for J. Crew. 

A limited-edition swim line will be new for spring 2007, with trunks made from exclusive Italian Ratti prints, and cut slightly shorter and slimmer, as well as large canvas totes made from recycled beach chair fabric from the South of France. 

Another notable collaboration is with English textile mill Thomas Mason, whose fine cotton will be used for J. Crew shirts in classic patterns. “At $98, these are the best deal in the world,” Snyder said.

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