PARIS — Asked whom he sees as J. Crew’s main competitors in Paris as the American brand sets its first boutique in the Marais district, Millard “Mickey” Drexler didn’t hesitate for one second. “Anyone with a sewing machine,” he replied.
Yet J. Crew Group Inc.’s chairman and chief executive is sanguine, convinced word-of-mouth will propel J. Crew’s fortunes in a capital he equates with style.
“Part of getting well-known is having a presence. Hopefully, people who shop here will tell their friends to shop here,” he said in an interview Wednesday, seated under a grand skylight at the center of the 1,800-square-foot women’s unit at 12 Rue Malher, previously the home of a L’Eclaireur men’s shop. “I think we’ll become a destination for fashion customers.”
The retailer brightened up the space by exposing pale stone previously hidden behind walls, employing mainly blonde woods for floors and racks and using white marble and antique brass for tables laden with books, reclining mannequins and folded apparel.
Gallery posters, a mirrored artwork spelling out “Take Me, I’m Yours” and quirky Dr. Seuss-worthy fur sculptures add a whimsical touch and echo the range of colors and patterns winking from the rails.
J. Crew plans to follow up with a men’s store in Paris, and possibly a Crewcuts unit for its children’s range. “The French love Crewcuts and they love kid’s clothing,” Drexler said.
The executive said J. Crew is at the early stages of its international expansion, having started in London in 2013, where it already counts five locations.
“We’re serious about it, but we’re not in a hurry,” he said, estimating international sales represent less than five percent of the retailer’s revenues.
While French consumers are now among the top 10 countries for J. Crew’s online business, the company has yet to set up shop in Australia, Germany and Japan, where the brand also enjoys a strong following.
The Paris unit offers a range of collections and price points, from knits in an array of colors lined up on a bench to limited-edition pieces from J. Crew Collection, and a special capsule in collaboration with Saint James, a Breton maker of striped sailor tops, here embellished with feathers, sequins and studs.
The brand also collaborated with Lacoste on a polo shirt and Swarovski on items appliquéd with phrases such as, “Pardon My French.”
Drexler said the diversity is deliberate, acknowledging that assortments in its Brompton Road unit in London were initially too upscale. “We balanced that out. What woman doesn’t want to get a T-shirt?” he asked.
Following lunch in a neighborhood bistro, the apparel veteran was eager to explore the burgeoning Marais district, and other specialty retailers. On Tuesday, he had visited the recently renovated food halls at Le Bon Marché and raved about displays exalting water, cheese and meat. “I did about 10 pictures,” he said. “It’s not just about clothing. It’s about who does things creatively.”