J.Crew Takes Over Better Market to Challenge Designer Ready-to-Wear

06Mar08

We all knew it was coming. It started with $130 ballet flats and has fully arrived with a line of dog clothing and a new catalog shot in the Kaufmann House, “an icon of Modernist architecture.” Doggie sweaters? Modernist architecture? Remember when J. Crew was all about country and earth, leather and human sweaters? Well, as far as I’m concerned, this newest catalog indicates that the unsophisticated, pedestrian J. Crew that we all knew and loved has officially jumped ship. They cashed in their middle-class appeal for a whole new clientele — those eager to pony up for unsophisticated and pedestrian clothing that is also EXPENSIVE. Here is my problem with this whole thing: while J. Crew suiting and career separates are solid, their higher-end stuff inspires ambivalence. I like some of it, but there’s NO WAY to wear say, the Double Strand Giraffe Necklace, without advertising the J. Crew brand. Their styling is so distinctive and their mass marketing so ubiquitous, that their brand will eclipse the personal style of anyone who chooses to don their more unique designs. People will spot the items and immediately think of the wearer, “Prissy, unsophisticated, suburban, yuppie.” It’s as if they have diluted their own brand.

So, if their higher-end stuff is by its very nature passé, and they have seriously curtailed their offerings of more basic options, why should we still shop there? Let’s also consider the fact that when you’re buying J. Crew, you’re buying “bridgewear,” one of the lowest links on the fashion food chain. Normally, I would say, “Fine. They’re just taking on the ‘better’ market, in which designers just knock themselves off, anyway.” But they’re not just taking on the better market. They’re more expensive than better. Take, for example, the “Pippa Calf-Hair Jacket” currently selling for $1800. I have yet to see a CK Jeans or a DKNY piece priced far beyond $500. No, they are definitely taking on designer ready-to-wear. This begs the question, “Does the design team at J. Crew cop the styles of design houses, as one would expect from bridgewear or better, or is there a reason why we should be paying so much for these designs?” Personally, if I’m going to spend a ridiculous amount of money on any piece of clothing, it is going to be one with some integrity of design. In all honesty, however, I’ve moved on to greener pastures, so I probably wouldn’t shop J. Crew regardless. But I’m still left asking myself the same questions: Modernist architecture? Doggie sweaters?

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