The US fashion powerhouse is ready to make its mark on the capital with a Regent Street store. John Ryan reports on a long-awaited arrival.
J Crew Regent Street
Size 17,000 sq ft
Opened November 8
Number of floors Two
Offer Menswear, womenswear and kidswear
Ambience New York sophisticate
Men’s and women’s long-sleeved checked, plain denim and cotton shirts with the sleeves tightly rolled up and displayed side-hung in an open-front wardrobe along perimeter walls. Must be Abercrombie & Fitch mustn’t it? But, wait a moment, it’s much too light for that and not every fitting is in dark wood.
Welcome to the newly opened J Crew flagship on Regent Street. This is a two-floor, 17,000 sq ft affair and, although it hails from the same country as the nearby Abercrombie & Fitch store, the ambience is totally different.
And the customer base is likely to be very much wider, although there are the same model-like young people manning the interior, albeit they are wearing rather more than in A&F.
This flagship has been a while coming. It seems months since the first hoardings were put up, and shopfitter Bridgford Interiors has clearly had its work cut out, such is the level of detail that has been put into the creation of the in-store panorama.
Standing outside one day ahead of the opening, there was a J Crew invitee shoppers-only event and fresh-faced-looking types clutching clipboards were ensuring that just the chosen few made it into the shop.
For those who did, there were J Crew liveried London taxis outside, waiting to whisk them to their next destination following a visit to the store.
It’s a touch that typifies what has been a pre-opening marketing tour de force, with everything from London cab cut-outs in a line above the hoarding to a pop-up J Crew store that opened for just one weekend at the Central Saint Martins art school in King’s Cross.
The awareness-building campaign has been such that a day ahead of the flagship opening there was no shortage of those prepared to take time out on a Thursday afternoon to go and check out the store ahead of the crowds descending on November 8.
Those who did so and stood poised at the entrance to the womenswear area on the ground floor would have been treated to an old-fashioned GPO telephone box. It’s an obvious attempt to ‘localise’ the offer, but it comes with a twist. Rather than being red, this kiosk is covered in strips of cream-coloured paper, giving the impression of an object covered in white shaggy hair.
And in front of the telephone box there is a pair of mannequins sporting bearskin hats, another touch aimed at appealing to the crowds, many of whom are likely to be tourists.
Such is the determination to anchor J Crew in its Regent Street location that one window has been devoted to gold balloons spelling out the message ‘Hello London’, while another features a beige and cream Union Jack flag as the backdrop to a menswear vignette.
New York swagger
While all of this is laudable, there can be little mistaking the fact that this is pretty much an all-American, and more specifically New York, act. Look around the rest of the two rooms that house womenswear on the ground floor and there is a slickness of presentation and a cleanness of execution that betrays the North American provenance.
It is the kind of interior that would look perfectly at home on Fifth Avenue. It is hard to pin down why this should be the case, but something of the kind can be also be seen in Banana Republic on Regent Street.
Wood is to the fore in the J Crew interior and the open-fronted wardrobes in light timber provide a warmly neutral backdrop to the piles of brightly coloured and aspirationally-priced knitwear, among other items, that fill them.
Good use has been made of props in these fixtures, ranging from small pieces of modern art to a blue neon light sculpture behind the cash desk that says ‘brilliant’. The rest of the floor is white, again allowing the stock to do the talking.
Deeper into the store is the men’s shop. Although the flooring, which is either herringbone or plain wooden planking, is the same as in the rest of the shop, the men’s experience is very discrete from the rest of what is on offer.
That is probably the reason why there is a second entrance to the store featuring a sober-looking black bus-stop-style sign with the legend ‘J Crew Men’s Shop’ on it.
The intention is to create a series of rooms for men in the shop that appear to have little relation to the womenswear space, other than that the flooring is more or less the same.
The feel of the three main rooms that comprise the men’s offer is similar to that of a very upmarket independent menswear retailer, except on a much larger scale. For the most part, the collection is casual and there is a relaxed, unhurried feel.
Pass through a wood-faced square arch into ‘The Ludlow Shop’ however and the mood changes. This is the formal offer and it looks like the sort of thing that those familiar with better-end New York department store retailers will recognise.
The perimeter is for jackets and suits, while the tiered mid-shop tables are devoted to shirts, ties and accessories.
It’s a simple layout and the better for being so.
Upstairs it’s more rooms, more womenswear and a single room for ‘Crew Cuts’, aka kidswear. The latter deploys the same merchandising techniques as for the adult collections, but in the mid-shop there are green rubber lawns-cum-mats and lime green fake plants in matching flowerpots.
Mention should also be made of the pictures. They are everywhere, framed and arranged for the most part in groups, adding to the quasi-domestic sense that pervades almost the whole of the interior. There can be little doubt that this will be popular, in spite of pricing that may prove a little steep for some tastes.
And the two other J Crew stores that have opened in London, a menswear shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street and a women’s shop on upscale Draycott Avenue in Chelsea, will serve to complement the flagship.
In design and display terms, J Crew is a class act in its native New York and its arrival in Europe reinforces that. It may have taken some time to get the store up and running, but for Regent Street shoppers it looks as if it will have been worth the wait.