J. Crew is heightening its focus on menswear.
On the heels of the launch of Brendon Babenzien’s first collection as its new men’s creative director, the retailer is opening a men’s concept store in New York’s NoHo.
The 1,100-square-foot store at 316 Bowery at Bleecker Street is intended to “bring to life J. Crew’s men’s vision,” according to Libby Wadle, chief executive officer of J. Crew Group. “It’s our heritage made modern in a new space.”
She said the J. Crew Bowery store offers “a really nice edit of our men’s collection,” along with some vintage pieces that will “rotate in and out.” There’s also a café that serves coffee from Urban Backyard and a seating area to encourage shoppers to stay a while and enjoy the reading nook. Wadle also praised the openness of the space, saying that there are doors that open to the outdoors and let in natural light and air.
This is not J. Crew’s first men’s-only store. Back when Todd Snyder was head of menswear for the brand in 2008, it opened the Liquor Store men’s concept on West Broadway and White Street in Tribeca, a trendsetting shop that was open for more than a decade and served to put both Snyder and the slim Ludlow suit he created on the map. In 2012, J. Crew opened the Ludlow Shop at 50 Hudson Street to further highlight the suit and complementary furnishings. Both stores have since closed and Snyder, who now has his own label, has taken over the Liquor Store for his Todd Snyder collection.
“Those were fantastic stores,” Wadle said, “and they were right for the time.” But it’s a different company today under the leadership of Wadle, who had served as head of the company’s successful Madewell brand before being named chief of J. Crew Group in November of 2020. Like many other retailers, J. Crew filed for bankruptcy during the pandemic but emerged from Chapter 11 in September 2020 after a four-month restructuring.
Wadle was instrumental in bringing Babenzien on board to oversee men’s design last year. His first collection hit in July and features an updated preppy aesthetic with pieces such as looser-fitting chinos, wool madras barn coats and suede argyle vests.
That same sensibility is evident in the store with its vintage furniture and artwork, and a repp-striped canoe hanging from the ceiling. The store was designed by Dream Awake, Estelle Bailey-Babenzien’s creative company. Bailey-Babenzien is Brendon Babenzien’s wife.
Since the Babenzien-designed men’s collection launched it has performed well, Wadle said. The “runaway” hit has been the “giant-fit chino,” she said, a model that is spacious through the hip and thigh with a longer rise and a 20 ½-inch leg opening, along with seasonal suits.
“We’ve had a really nice response to the collection,” she said. “It’s brought a breath of fresh air, even to our classics, and people are seeing J. Crew through a fresh lens, which is exciting.”
She said that J. Crew is at its best when “design leads the way and our storytelling cuts through — that’s our differentiator.”
Men’s accounts for just under one-third of J. Crew’s overall sales and has been performing well. “Our men’s business has been strong all year and we came into the quarter with great momentum,” she said. Babenzien’s arrival has given the category a “tailwind.”
Although the brand is selling more suits and return-to-work pieces — particularly unconstructed styles — Wadle said the strength crosses all categories. “J. Crew is the ultimate destination for across-the-board lifestyle pieces. We help people pull things together in a polished way. The athleisure and casualwear of pandemic time have slowed down, but we’re selling blazers with wider-leg chinos and we’re a great destination for knitwear.”
But while Wadle has high hopes for the J. Crew men’s concept store, there are no plans to open additional units at this point.
“We’re in opportunistic mode,” she said. “We want to see how this one does and go from there. This will be a great barometer for the brand, but it’s not part of a grand opening plan.”