By  on February 16, 2006

NEW YORK — J. Crew is growing by downsizing.

Crewcuts, the retailer's children's collection, will be introduced in earnest this spring for boys and girls ages two to eight, after a short-lived run in the Nineties and some dabbling with a few small-fry styles in recent holiday catalogues.

The Crewcuts summer collection will arrive March 31 at 10 J. Crew stores that are carving out Crewcuts shop-in-shops ranging from 600 to 1,200 square feet. Also, a 2,000-square-foot freestanding Crewcuts store, with 1,400 square feet for selling, will open at the North Park Mall in Dallas on April 25. A second location is being negotiated and will be announced soon.

Crewcuts comes at a time when J. Crew Group is developing another retail concept completely dissociated from the J. Crew name, with a different price point and target market than J. Crew. Also, the retailer continues to eye an initial public offering after postponing its IPO last year. The offering could happen this year and would have a greater chance of getting off the ground with new brands or brand extensions in the works to whet the appetite of potential investors about growth prospects and growth vehicles.

The Crewcuts strategy was in development months before there was any serious thought of an IPO, though, according to sources close to the company. J. Crew Group chairman and chief executive Mickey Drexler declined to comment on the IPO, or the new brand under development, though he did detail the philosophy behind Crewcuts and brand extensions during an exclusive interview. His main points: The Crewcuts investment is "conservative," with only a handful of locations to carry the collection, at least initially, yet the company is "passionate" about children's wear and has been spurred on by requests from catalogue and Web customers for J. Crew in kids' sizes. He characterized Crewcuts as "basically mini J. Crew."

"We are going after a J. Crew style that our customers really love for themselves and want for their kids," Drexler said. "For any business to succeed, it's a matter of putting together a certain style and to have a strong point of view. We will have a strong point of view, but it's not a ‘mommy and me' or a ‘take the holiday picture' thing. If you look at J. Crew classics, they all work very well in small sizes."

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