J. Crew has snagged another exclusive, this time with denim brand Imogene + Willie. The Nashville-based jeans label will offer two styles of men’s jeans and two bags at J. Crew’s men’s stores in TriBeCa, SoHo and on Madison Avenue (opening in late summer) starting at the end of August. The merchandise will also be available online.

This story first appeared in the July 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Right now, Imogene + Willie jeans are sold only in the brand’s Nashville store and a specialty store in Austin, Tex., named Stag. The line of artisan denim is the creation of the husband-and-wife team of Matt and Carrie Eddmenson. Before setting up the company, they worked together in a family business in Kentucky designing and developing new processes of garment finishing for premium denim for Levi’s, Lee, Girbaud and Polo Ralph Lauren’s RRL, as well as Rogan, J Brand, Diesel and Replay. That business closed two years ago, and the couple started Imogene + Willie, which is named for Carrie’s maternal grandparents.

“They’re so pure and artisan,” said Frank Muytjens, vice president of men’s design for J. Crew, of the Eddmensons. “They create their denim in a big metal tub in the backyard, and the leather guy down the street makes the bags. Every jean is a one-off and has Western influences, workwear influences. Everything is very crafty and very individual.”

J. Crew will carry a slim straight-leg model, which is “based on a jean from the Forties,” he said, in either a dark rinse with mild abrasion for $375 or a light wash with more abrasion for $425. There will be a slimmed-down version of a vintage U.S. Mail bag for $650 and a leather tote for $800. Hangtags have been printed from old letter presses, and the sizes will be individually hand-stamped, according to Matt Eddmenson. There will also be a vintage T-shirt and sweatshirt for women.

The association between the two companies came about after the Eddmensons reached out to J. Crew chief executive officer Millard “Mickey” Drexler, whom they had known from his days at Gap. “We sent him an e-mail saying we were enamored with all the collaborations they were doing, and literally three minutes later the phone rang at the store and it was Mickey,” she said.

Although the brand has received “tons of inquiries” from other retailers wanting to carry the jeans, Carrie Eddmenson said it is a “strategic decision” not to wholesale beyond J. Crew and Stag. “We want to keep it pretty intimate,” she said.

The “mid- to long-term goal,” he said, is to open additional locations, but “no more than three.” His wife added: “We like that people are flying to Nashville to come to the store.”

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