LOS ANGELES — Specialty retailer Ron Herman and J. Crew Group Inc. chief executive officer Millard “Mickey” Drexler have struck an unusual partnership.

This story first appeared in the November 11, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Herman, owner of the high-end Fred Segal boutiques on Melrose Avenue here, opened a J. Crew shop-in-shop on Monday. The preppy label now occupies a section of Herman’s namesake store that is within Fred Segal. The men’s wear unit is called J. Crew Special Selections and it carries items specially selected by Herman.

Commenting on the collaboration of a boutique with a small footprint and his chain of more than 200 stores, Drexler said: “You have to go with your gut. There’s an incredible and distinct point of view here. It sounds so simple, but in this business sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to achieve. There’s the ‘get-it’ factor that some retailers just don’t have. We’re seeing the fallout from that right now.”

The partnership was proposed and executed in about three months, with Herman traveling to J. Crew headquarters in New York in September to personally pick the jackets, shirts, socks, ties and corduroy and khaki pants that are now sold in his boutique.

“We’re not going to be able to do it better than Ron Herman,” Drexler said of allowing Herman to select the pieces.

Drexler and Herman have been casual acquaintances for almost 30 years. Last summer, as is Drexler’s custom when he is in Los Angeles, he visited Herman’s store. Later that day, Herman called Drexler and proposed the collaboration.

“We’ve both been in this business and crossing paths for about 30 years, and we’re about the last two guys standing from the old days, which means we’re both doing something right,” Herman said. “He gave me carte blanche and I literally hand-picked the best items for the store.”

For Herman, the move is a nod to value. But how will J. Crew fit into the merchandise mix in Herman’s boutique, which features high-end labels such as Ann Demeulemeester, Lanvin, Band of Outsiders and Dries Van Noten?

“Some people will come in and wonder ‘Is it OK if I buy J. Crew?’ Damn right it is, they are the best at what they do, the selection is evidence of that,” Herman said. “It can coexist with Margiela and Watanabe; you can get value, fashion and good service and not worry that you will drop $2,000.”

Despite the obvious disparity in size, Herman said he views J. Crew as a specialty retailer.

“Specialty retailers shoot with a bow and arrow, not a shotgun; they really have to hit the target and earn the right to be here every day,” Herman said. “Mickey does that with J. Crew, just like we do. That’s why this is such a good fit.”

Herman and Drexler intend for the collaboration to be long term, but don’t have specific plans to expand the collection to include women’s apparel or to other locations.

“Simply put, we’ll do whatever Ron wants to do,” Drexler said.

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