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J. Crew’s Madewell Launching Stores

J. Crew Group's Madewell retail concept is sticking with its conservative growth plan.

The assortment inside Madewell.

J. Crew Group’s Madewell retail concept is sticking with its conservative growth plan.

This story first appeared in the February 20, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Madewell openings are set for 256 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, Conn., on March 3; the Americana at Brand lifestyle center in Glendale, Calif., on March 10, and 20 Newtown Lane in East Hampton, N.Y., in June.

An exclusive limited edition premium denim collection debuts on Shopbop.com, in select Madewell stores and on madewell1937.com today.

Last Wednesday, the brand’s first Boston unit opened in a former horse stable dating back to the 1880s at 329 Newbury Street. It’s the 11th unit in the chain and the kind of site that the Madewell team craves — one that captures the historic aura of the label. The 4,000-square-foot store has exposed brick that’s painted white, hardwood floors and a checkered history. The building burned down in the Twenties and Forties, and was twice restored.

“It’s got wonderful old details and enormous character,” said Millard “Mickey” Drexler, chairman and chief executive officer of J. Crew Group, owner of the three-year-old Madewell brand, during a tour of the site on opening day. “It feels like Madewell.”

Drexler revived the brand, inspired by a former New Bedford, Mass. workwear label dating back to 1937. He said the store is reminiscent of the Madewell flagship in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, opened a year ago at 486 Broadway in an 1883 Romanesque Revival brick building.

“The Boston store just reinforces the personality of Madewell,” Drexler said. The collection embodies layering, mix and matching and an easy, laid-back downtown look. There are also strong denim and accessories components.

“Today, no one is really in a growth business, but there is always a market for cool fashion. Boston is a tremendous market,” Drexler said.

He noted that Madewell works best in 3,500- to 4,000-square-foot settings, though the East Hampton unit will be 1,100 square feet. It’s moving into a space that housed J. Crew, which is relocating nearby to 14 Main Street in the former Rum Runners home furnishings store.

Drexler said a total of 10 Madewell units are opening this year. “That’s our original plan. We have not cut back anything. We are still continuing to expand. We are very pleased with the business, and its place in the market. It’s a small business” with room to grow. The J. Crew brand, he acknowledged, has cut back on growth because of the worsening economy.

Although Madewell comparisons to J. Crew are inevitable, Drexler insisted, “This is not about a better company starting a lesser division. It’s about fair value, style, fashion and quality.”