For its first bridal boutique, J. Crew takes inspiration from a French salon without getting too grand about it.
Furnished with brass-rimmed vitrines for vintage jewelry, velvet drapes in the window and a graciously spaced showroom downstairs with a crystal chandelier and private suites so family and friends can comfortably witness the fittings, the 4,000-square-foot J. Crew bridal shop opens today on the corner of Madison Avenue and 66th Street, and has an official kickoff Tuesday with Darcy Miller, editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings, hosting a private party.
And, while selling bridal requires some serious attention to the always-anxious brides-to-be — Champagne is served — the boutique also retains J. Crew’s signature quirkiness, with an assortment that ranges from a more traditional silk taffeta gown with a floral sash to an offbeat pairing of a delicate Mongolian wool vest with a tricotine skirt with a train.
Within the intimate setting, there’s a broad view — merchandising for occasions beyond the wedding itself, but with a “curated” approach to carefully selecting what will be displayed. Bearing in mind the before and after parties, rehearsal dinners and the honeymoon night, there are separate areas on the first floor for cashmere sweaters, handbags, shoes, jewelry, lingerie and a new 769 Collection of cocktail and evening dresses, tuxedo jackets and harem pants. Much of the assortment, J. Crew executives boast, incorporates fabrics from some of the finest Italian mills, such as Clerici Tessuto and Canepa, yet without the expected sticker shock.
J. Crew Group president Tracy Gardner said J. Crew bridal fills a price niche between David’s Bridal and Vera Wang, offering a range from $229 for a silk tricotine Sophia gown or $350 for a Duchess bow monde satin cocktail dress, to sequin gowns for $1,500, or $3,500 for a metallic Twenties-inspired tulle gown. “We’re not fancy here. We’re still J. Crew, but it’s an elevated experience,” Gardner said.
On the accessories side, there’s a vintage Larry Vrba coral beaded necklace, priced at $1,250, and $450 floral pearl earrings from Stanley Hagler. There are also J. Crew’s shagreen clutches, priced at $625; satin slingback peep-toe booties, $395; seductive sequin tap shorts, priced at $225, as well as the Histoire de Parfums fragrance, Albertus Swanepoel headpieces, Bobbi Brown lip-gloss, Cosabella lingerie, Miriam Haskell jewelry and Leah C. veils and headpieces, among other outside brands.
A wedding, observed Tom Mora, head of wedding design, “is one time in a women’s life that she feels really special. So you want to think about all of the elements and events surrounding the occasion.”
The receptionist in front of the store is the tip-off to the high-service environment of the store. It’s manned with four personal shoppers and six wedding specialists equipped with hand-held technology and Wi-Fi to quickly answer questions about products and locate items that may be elsewhere in the J. Crew’s multichannel distribution network.
The boutique’s location, 769 Madison Avenue, near many designer flagships, reflects J. Crew’s mission to compete against designers by providing designer-quality apparel and accessories at lower prices, and a willingness to be in their face. “This is just another step in our march to show that J. Crew plays with the best of them,” said Millard “Mickey” Drexler, chairman and chief executive officer of J. Crew Group.
The retailer launched bridal in 2004 online and in catalogues, and recently began testing the category with a sampling of products and fittings in a handful of key stores. Customers discovered they couldn’t get appointments for weeks, providing proof to the J. Crew team that a full-fledged bridal store was in demand. There was also something missing — “the touch and feel” part of the experience, Drexler said.
“When we took appointments, we realized we needed to express the feeling and vision of J. Crew bridal in one location. We needed a stage. We are not looking at this as a one individual stand-alone. It’s a platform” for possibly more bridal stores. “There is nothing like a living, breathing environment.”
Asked when the next bridal store could open, Drexler said: “We will see how it goes. We are in no hurry. We have invested in what we consider an extraordinary location. It took us a long time to find the right spot.”