Style check: US label J. Crew looks to Hong Kong after London invasion
"I think people know it's a friendly store from the way they are treated. It's a value we hold very highly," says the bespectacled Mickey Drexler, J. Crew's CEO and chairman, from a beaten leather couch at his new Regent Street store in London. "We embrace our customers … As for success here, only time will tell."
The night before, Drexler was guiding Joan Burstein, the octagenarian founder of Browns fashion boutique, through the crowd at the opening party of the 17,000 sq ft flagship. This marks a big move for J. Crew - the start of a major expansion beyond North America.
After London, Drexler says that Hong Kong is next, with an opening hopefully billed for spring next year.
J. Crew has managed a stellar turnaround from struggling American apparel brand to commercial star, with its online and bricks-and-mortar retail now skyrocketing in the US. Overseas clients have also got a taste for the fashionable yet affordable brand. US first lady Michelle Obama is a loyal fan.
The Regent Street flagship is huge, carrying 90 per cent of J. Crew's product range. At the same time, the label is opening two smaller boutiques in London: one focused on menswear on 38 Lambs Conduit Street and another at Brompton Cross. Both are more intimate operations, but also crucial to the big international "outing".
"Brompton Cross houses all the women's lines - the higher-end stuff mixed with denim and shoes. The Lambs Conduit store is really meant to be more of a jewel-box experience and be more 'neighbourhood'," says J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons.
"We wanted to have multiple ways to share the brand with people, hence these three quite different stores," Lyons says. "Honestly, we didn't set out to have three. As we started to look at different locations, things started to pop up more quickly than we imagined and what was nice was they all had a different feel … It just worked out that way with the real estate."
Lyons thinks the huge breadth of J. Crew's collections helps with its global appeal.
As for Hong Kong, Lyons says the city is "obviously is the next stop". The addition of J. Crew will further bolster the growing affordable luxury and contemporary fashion retail sector in the city, a recent and welcome development for the middle class.
The first time J. Crew entered Hong Kong retail was through a partnership with Lane Crawford late last year, when they were "all shocked" at the popularity and response. "I think it has given us a little bit of courage," says Lyons.
"What's great about Hong Kong, as you know," she says, "is that it's a gateway to greater China, and the rest of Asia. Everyone comes to Hong Kong and looks to it as a beacon of what's important."