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Millard “Mickey” Drexler is bullish on denim.

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

And with the launch today of the Madewell ’37s jeans collection, Drexler, chairman and chief executive officer of Madewell parent J. Crew Group Inc., is out to prove it.

The line is launching with a single “skinny skinny” ultralean, detail-free silhouette priced at $59.50, well below Madewell’s opening jeans price point of $78. The jeans are available in five washes: black, plume, avalanche (modified acid-wash), dark ash and chimney (a bleached-out black-on-gray).

The ’37s launch is an important one, considering denim is a core component of Madewell, representing 20 percent of the three-year-old brand’s volume, according to market sources. Boots, T-shirts and scarves are also big.

“Instead of having an assortment [of jeans], we said, ‘Let’s go with the skinny skinny,’” Drexler said. “That’s our best shot. Most girls and women are wearing skinny jeans these days.

“We would rather be dominant in one great fit than sorting out more fits,” he said. “In today’s marketplace, clarity, focus and single-minded awareness is as important as anything.”

As Drexler sees it, “There’s a new world today. The denim customer is no longer trading up to higher price points. With customers giving us feedback and the marketplace changing, it was pretty clear there was a need to come out with a collection of jeans a bit more price friendly. Jeans at $92 to $110 represented the heart of the business. We are still maintaining that, but we are looking to expand our reach in the market right now.”

The denim business, he acknowledged, is highly competitive and loaded with labels.

“What isn’t saturated today?” Drexler asked rhetorically. He said the jeans market is particularly saturated at cheaper price levels and at $125 and above, but there’s an opening in the middle. Madewell also offers “rail straight” jeans, priced from $78, and the worn and torn “ex-boyfriend jean” at $95. Almost all of Madewell’s jeans are less than $100.

“We don’t think [the jeans market] is saturated with cool, well-made, well-designed jeans at $59.50 and up to about $100, particularly with a style, fit and wash point of view,” Drexler said.

With Madewell ’37s, the detail is in the fit, silhouette and wash. “It’s not pocket design or logos,” Drexler said. “We think it’s all about not having stitching and logo-ing. People want a cleaner, more timeless jean. It’s what the original jeans were about, and it’s what Madewell’s heritage is about.”

Three years ago, Drexler resurrected Madewell, formerly a workwear label, into a relaxed casual sportswear, shoes and accessories brand. Workwear was founded in 1937, which is the inspiration for the new jeans label.

The tag line for marketing the ’37s is “Cool jeans. Great price. We’ve got your back.”

“It’s all about keeping its simple, cool jeans at a great price,” Drexler said.

Madewell is growing, primarily through word-of-mouth, he said. With the ’37s, a variety of channels, including Facebook and Twitter, in-store events, blog buzz, campus outreach and partnerships are planned.

Asked who the Madewell customer is, Drexler said, “She loves jeans. She loves fashion. She loves style and doesn’t want to dress like every girl is dressing and doesn’t want to spend a fortune on clothes. She is a cool, 20- or 30-something girl, but there is also a teenage following.”

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