Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — J. Crew opened a 12,000-square-foot flagship Friday at 99 Prince Street in SoHo here. It’s a prototype for future full-line stores and the start of a new expansion phase for J. Crew’s retail division.
“We’ve only been in retail for five years, but we’re ready to roll out,” said Emily Woods, vice chairman and designer for J. Crew. “We plan to double the size of the chain in three years. We’ll open 12 to 15 stores in 1997, 15 stores in 1998 and 20 stores in 1999.”
That’s about twice the pace of J. Crew’s retail expansion since the catalog company started opening stores. It will have 39 units by the end of the year.
Mall developers, anxious to fill space vacated by retailers going out of business or undergoing consolidations, are said to be particularly interested in J. Crew, which has a lot of room for growth.
Other catalog operations that have expanded into retail stores, such as Eddie Bauer, which has 385 stores, and Victoria’s Secret, with 737 stores, have moved much faster than J. Crew.
Woods said additional stores are planned for the New York City area, as well as New Jersey, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. Woods said she is considering opening freestanding stores for J. Crew Collection, a sophisticated line not sold in the catalog, in upscale malls and shopping districts.
She declined to project a volume for the store.
J. Crew built a $500 million catalog business on rugged outerwear, thick wool sweaters and rugby shirts, modeled on preppy adults and apple-cheeked children.
The company has gone beyond its roots by updating the classics — although you can still find a flannel shirt or corduroy jacket in the catalog — you can also find polo shirts, currently in colors such as apricot, lilac and apple green, and low-waist pants in a variety of fabrics. There’s also a two-tone crewneck in tomato and brown, with matching bias-plaid A-line skirt inspired by Prada.
The flagship carries many products from the catalog. However, more than 40 percent of the items in the flagship are exclusive to the store, Woods said.
The flagship has a clean, spare design with lighting made of simple, handblown glass orbs, wool sisal rugs, limestone floors and brushed nickel fixtures.
The store is divided into large, open rooms. Only the J. Crew Collection occupies its own area with its own dressing rooms and has its own street entrance. Jackets in the Collection are priced between $400 and $600, compared with $180 to $300 for a jacket from the career area.
Career, weekend, sport and swim lines for women are the main floor. Lingerie, which is sold in the catalog, will be introduced in the store in February. In the weekend collection, a camel bouclA dress and matching jacket are priced $88 and $168, respectively. Black rayon and Lycra spandex pants are $58, and a zip-front faire isle sweater sells for is $68.
A dramatic staircase with a maple handrail and cast iron and steel railing leads to the men’s area on the lower level.
J. Crew’s first store opened in 1989 in the South Street Seaport here. A third Manhattan store is planned for 89 Fifth Avenue, between 16th and 17th Streets. The 8,000-square-foot unit is scheduled to open in February.
J. Crew has 60 stores in Japan through a joint-venture with Itochu. On Friday, the joint-venture partners opened a 10,000-square-foot flagship in Tokyo.