J.Crew Goes Extreme Luxury, Despite Economy


Ever so quietly, J.Crew, formerly a bastion of affordable preppy basics, is transitioning into a luxury brand.

All J.Crew Collection images via J.Crew.com

More than three years ago, J.Crew launched a high-end, “couture-quality” capsule line named J.Crew Collection. At the time, in an official release to fashion industry trade magazine WWD, the company stated that the J.Crew Collection was “a natural evolution, representing a grown-up version of J. Crew’s ‘classics with a twist’ style — updated with an emphasis on elevated quality and originality.”

In the fall of 2008, just as the economy was sliding quickly into freefall, J.Crew opened its first Collection boutique on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. In April of 2010, the brand staged its first off-site fashion presentation, showcasing fall Collection pieces in a penthouse at Milk Studios.

And just this week, the company took the next step in promoting its uber-expensive line by sending out its first-ever Collection catalog. The extra large paper pamphlet is filled with luxury items at hefty prices, including a $495 lace vest, a $795 Mongolian lamb tote, and a $1,195 plaid poncho.

This move sounds rather counterintuitive, given our still-bleak economic climate — but in fact the luxury collection is in-tune with how many customers are shopping these days. According to Reuters, women are now less willing to spend money on basic items than they are on “special,” high-quality pieces. CEO Mickey Drexler’s theory, explained in a WSJ profile, is that, “customers will pay more for well-made clothing.”

Drexler and creative director Jenna Lyons have taken pains to find quality materials to justify these high prices. As explained on the brand’s Web site, the plaid poncho was made in a “prestigious Italian mill renowned for its impeccable craftsmanship and expertise.” The lace vest is from an “esteemed French mill.”

So far, this new “sell fewer items at higher prices” approach appears to be successful: The $795 Mongolian lamb tote, which was “finished at a famed French mill,” has already sold out.