24 August 2010

My J. Crew Story

Was talking to a J Crew employee this morning at the opening of their new men's store on 79th and Madison. Beautiful Swain Adeney Brigg brollies and leather cases fill up an old bank vault with Barbour coats, Quoddy moccs, silver Benson & Clegg collar stays, Timex watches and Crockett and Jones brogues not to mention my beloved, D.R. Harris toiletries. While the paneling says Scandinavia - this place screams St James's Place.

The employee tells me he thinks it's great to have it, "...all in one place so you don't have to run around..." I say, "I'm just the opposite." And he says, "What do you mean?" I say, " Imagine you're walking in London.

And it starts to pour. You run into a shop just to escape the rain and as you brush off your coat you see a Swaine Adeney Brigg umbrella. It's 200 pounds and the exchange is nearly 2 to 1 but you gotta have it. Hell, it's raining.

So you buy it and crank it open as you step onto King Street and head for the Red Lion Pub to meet an auctioneer about a Monet panel that you buy for 20,000 pounds and sell for $200,000 in the states.

For 20 years you manage not to lose that umbrella. You loan it to no one. You run back to several restaurants knowing you left it by your table and you know it's gone for sure. But it's always there. One night a waiter chases you down the street and taps you on the shoulder, "Sir, you forgot this..."

It's a story. And you tell it over drinks where your friends shake their heads in disbelief -- but it's all true. Every word of it. Almost. Or, you can tell people you bought your umbrella at J Crew."

The employee shakes his head and says, "Man, I know what you mean." And I wonder, "Do you?" For those of you who don't want to run around...it's all in one place and a beautiful place it is. For those of you who want stories - - Book your tickets now. Before you run out of time to live.


DAM said...

It's like, damn. You can tell a story Tinseth.

Charles said...

Didn't you know? Now you can get your SAB umbrella on the internet. You seem a little out of touch for a new media fashion maven.

tintin said...

Damn, Dam. Thank you.

LWing- What's an internet?

Richard M said...


Anonymous said...

j crew has great ideas but the do a bad job with the ideas they get.

store looks great, clothes "look" great, they talk about quality etc and it's ridiculous. their clothing is cheap and poorly made.

i don't care where its made just make your shit better.

James said...

"Run out of time to live" ,sumbitch.

Silk Regimental said...

I believe I do understand. I deliberately "make the rounds" buying where I know I can get what I have in mind and talking with the folks in each shop.

Anonymous said...

I laughed hard at this one. It's literally awesome that you came up with this story and completely schooled the J. Crew kid with a lesson in lifestyle that J.Crew itself could only dream of aspiring to.

Brummagem Joe said...

I was talking to one of the owners of Crockett & Jones in London a couple of weeks ago and he was urging me to visit although he said the shoes would be more expensive than in London. I'll check it out next time I'm in NYC. They must be just around the corner from Ralphie's place.

Brummagem Joe said...

ps. I've got one of their umbrellas btw it's silk and I haven't lost it yet. My bride would kill me. SAB have a website for seconds and remaindered items btw. I can't remember what the name is but I'll have a dig around and see if I can find it and put up a link.

La Maison Fou said...

Loved this one it looks like by the phots it's raining inside the JCrew store.

Let it rain!


Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Love the overall trend (about time!)...but, 'Quoddy' shoes and 'Timex' watches'? Really?? Progress, not perfection.

Brummagem Joe said...

Here's a link to Papworth which is the Swaine Adeney and Briggs factory shop.


The Glengarry Sporting Club said...

My 7 yr old daughter will be glad to know those Thomas Mason's come in XS....sheesh....

First, I'll say that I've purchased plenty of J.Crew items over the years (very few being full-priced items) and I've never had any major complaints. I've never bought those clothes expecting them to be around forever. (In fact, I'd prefer that they not be.) And I understand what the thought process must be on the J.Crew side regarding the collaboration branding or whatever they want to call it: "We can't do this better so why not introduce it as if we discovered it?" If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Curation is the new Creation. Let's face it, at the end of the day, the vast majority of twenty-somethings who look at a J. Crew catalog and see a pair of Aldens or Quoddys are going to close the catalog thinking "I love J.Crew shoes." But the idea of a one-stop for all things heritage works completely against the experience that has the potential to attach MEANING to an ITEM. Because let's face it, they're pieces of cotton, strips of leather, thread, etc. There is nothing inherently special about these things. What TinTin tried to impart to our "Personal Shopper" today was that the story is what gives an item meaning its owner. And that's something they can't collect and display.

David M. said...

XS shirt? for who?

Anonymous said...

I still have clothing from J.Crew from the early '90s. Back when the only place in town was at the Seaport, when the seaport actually stunk of fish, actually I first went into the store to get a break from the stench. I go in the store and am disgusted by the quality of the material...The last shirt I purchased there lasted two wash cycles before I had to put it in the trash. My Navy Blue Anorak from 1992 is going strong. J.Crew needs to dispense with the illusion of quality and get back to basics.

TRVS said...

The best part about J. Crew used to be the cute boys in the catalog...I remember waitressing some 25 years ago at a B&B on the RI coast and trying to figure out a plan with the other girls to get them to use our quaint little town for a photo shoot...they never did.

I'd still rather see the men of the world do one~stop shopping here than in Walmart. At least they'd have to go somewhere else to buy groceries....


Anonymous said...

Great post. Again. Like the sales employee who may or may not "know what you mean," it makes me wonder if anyone but you in that store knows the provenance of a bank vault. Or an Edward Weston print. Or a hand stamp. Or a classic Timex. So I'm thinking not all of it is heretical, and that store interior designers do "get it." Retrofitting beats tear-downs any day. At least the hand stamps are a nice tie-in with the bank. That's provenance.

Your story - an excellent one - reminds me of the The Big Sleep where Humphrey Bogart ducks into a small book store to escape the rain. Of course, he meets the winsome but sexy shopgirl. They share a drink. And it's still raining...



Habitually Chic said...

It was so lovely meeting you at the new J.Crew Men's Store yesterday. I had the opportunity to hear you talk with Frank Muytjens, the head of men's design, who is the employee of whom you speak in your post. Frank is Dutch so perhaps he didn't know what you were talking about or maybe he did and was just trying to be polite. I understand your point but not everyone has the means or time to travel to London for a special umbrella and I appreciate that J.Crew is introducing American men to new brands. Their clothing is a heck of a lot more chic than what I see most men wearing in New York!

Brummagem Joe said...

"Of course, he meets the winsome but sexy shopgirl. They share a drink."

I don't remember them sharing a drink. And I thought she was part of the porno photo ring and very evasive?

Brummagem Joe said...

Back to J. Crew, don't you think they've chosen a rather remote location Tintin? I can see people making an effort(just)to shlep up to the mansion to sample the ambience and check out Ralph's latest but another 8 blocks for J. Crew?

LPC said...

Right. We don't want to buy our stories, no matter how great the gift wrap and ribbon. Rather hew them out of rock with a pickaxe. Life feels longer when you feel the strain.

GSV JR said...

Ha ha ha!

But what will the kids do w/out J Crew? It's like the McDonald's of the fashion world. They serve Starbucks and Chick-fil-a there, too, right?

It's a fight for Authenticity, where no one wants to be on the front lines fighting for what-it-is-to-be-"real."

ADG said...

What about that girl in the first picture?

tintin said...

Mauritus- Island off the Southeast coast of Africa. Home to the extinct dodo. There's some irony for you.

Anon- I'd say the quality of Crew today is much better than in 1987 when I had a beautiful sweater break out in holes in less than 6 months. But my question is, J Crew, Rugby, Polo, Hilfiger, all these retailers look the same. Even Brooks Bros seems to be joining in. No one really seems to have the guts to put it out there and take a risk. They also seem to have the same target customer in mind.

James- It can happen.

Silk- There's an old saying that you can't do everything right. Pick what you do well and focus on it. I'm never gonna find a special piece from Grahame Fowler or Jay Kos at Crew. Those two guys come at this from a very different angle. And the pleasure of browsing the Cambridge or Pastuer Pharmacy for D.R. Harris and other unique brands will never compare to Crew. It's a very different experience I relate to being soulful. Or, with gravitas. Or, stuff that means more to me now that I'm almost dead.

David- He was a new Crew employee and I can't blame him for his enthusiasm.

Joe - Did you know C&J opened a stand alone store in NY. 7 W 56th. Have yet to check it out. Thanks fo the link to the 2nds. Longwing made mention of it but couldn't be bothered to post a link. He's like that you know.

La M- It does?

Lag Prep- Of course you like it. All they'd have to do is swap G. Cleverly for Quoddy and Piaget for Timex and you'd be in heaven. Throw in some buxom blondes clad in tartan mini skirts and La Perla bras and well - - you're the Hedge Fund guy. You know what to do next.

tintin said...

Holy Guacomole! I went over my 4,096 character limit on my comment.

Part II

Glengary- Thanks for your insight and the time you took to share it. I hope everybody takes the time to read it. It is only strips of cotton and leather but I do have a sense that many folks are looking for a little more and a story or at least some history.

That the big guys are cranking out an ersatz story while Brooks Bros can't seem to find it's own story makes for a wacky time in men's retail.

I wonder who it is in NYC that is introduced to Barbour by J Crew. There's gotta be a gazillion shops in NYC that sell Barbour. And Timex. And DR Harris. And SAB. Well, not so much SAB but you get the idea.

David M - Certainly not my fat ass.
Although, it might look cool hanging from my rear view mirror.

Anon- Thanks for the memories. I remember the store. If you had any knowledge of Bean or Lands' End - Crew, back then, was something for the chumps or tourists who were and are big fans of one stop shopping.

TRVS- Ah, the old Crew catalogs. I loved them as well and have written many times about them. Real classics. Here's an idea.

Dear Mr. Drexler:
Why don't you get with Assouline and present a collection of J Crew catalogs from the '80s and '90s. Big layouts of open bleed pages with interviews from the models telling us who was sleeping with who and what parties are like with really good looking people.

Take my idea, Mr Drexler. For nothing. My gift to you. However, please see my letters to Mr Lauren for terms and feel free to contact me at any time to discuss this further.

The Trad

DB - Great clip. I love getting wet in bookstores. The design folks did an outstanding job and I feel in love with the date stamps. As always, I was more into the furnishings than I was into the Made in China cashmere suits but what do I know.Except great book ideas.

Heather- It was great meeting you. While I did ask Frank a couple of questions, they were not about 'story.' That was a conversation I had with another Crew employee who introduced me to Frank.

I had no trouble at all understanding Frank and have asked J Crew's PR dept that I might continue our conversation. Although I'm not optimistic.

I also think you can travel a huge part of the world with a subway pass in NYC. The small shops and out of way retailers are everywhere and they can easily be reached without a passport. This is all about being curious. Having that lust for seeing the new and different and risking a little to do it. My job here is to turn people onto those little out of the way places.

Joe- "I just happen to have a bottle of rye on me." I never get to use that line.

That area is a part of the UES I call, The Fur Sink Shops district. For the folks who enjoy spending $400 on cotton khakis at Peter Elliot.

Alice Olive said...

Meanwhile J Crew is evolving itself as we consumers consume it.

I do like that story. I'd have enjoyed a woman in the mix as well. (Sorry, I'm just a romantic.) Could the waiter have been a stunning woman.... and the umbrella could have served as the introduction to a passionate, albeit short-lived romance....?

Anonymous said...

Who wears J. Crew XS? Me. These shirts fit perfectly because somewhere in high school I topped out at 5'7" and a buck-forty on the scales. And let me tell you that the aughts were a decade in which it was impossible to find anything that wasn't two sizes too big. I probably shouldn't defend J. Crew around here (love this blog, and no, I don't work for J. Crew), but the sales, the free shipping, and my genius of a tailor pretty much makes them a staple in my wardrobe.


Family Man said...

Anonymous Danny,

At 5'7" and a buck-forty, I'm ten pounds overweight. To quote a famous adulter and alleged rapist, "I feel your pain."


Great story, great post. Maybe stuff like this makes up for the weather.

Trailer Trad said...

Man, it's tough to type with tears of joy in your eyes. That post is tight as mortgage lending approval these days...

-Cheers Tin Tin!

Brummagem Joe said...

"Did you know C&J opened a stand alone store in NY. 7 W 56th. Have yet to check it out."

Yep he mentioned that too and also that the prices in NYC would be higher. Mind you he was trying to sell me a pair of captoe suede brogues at the time. I'm going to check both out next time I'm in the city. I know the JC place is in the heart of the UES but count me sceptical about the typical JC customer shlepping up there.

Anonymous said...

My J. Crew story: I recently bought one of their "washed" feel shirts (as though you had owned it for years). When I got home I took the shirt out and noticed it stank like formaldehyde. I washed it over 10 times and it still stinks. A cotton shirt should have no scent at all.
I called customer service about it and for some reason since it was from an outlet store called " J. Crew" they wanted nothing to do with it. I asked if the outlet store was J. Crew or not, to which they replied, "Well yes, but..."
I knew that formaldehyde is common for non-iron shirts so I was surprised.
Anyway, crap shirt, crappy company and over rated. Now go MTM for same price.

The Glengarry Sporting Club said...

No harm intended on the XS comment (Danny & Family Man.) My daughter is actually quite tall for her age and I'm just jealous of you trimmer fellas.

Anonymous said...

The rain it falleth on the just,
and on the unjust fellah.
But it falleth mainly on the just,
Because the unjust has nicked the just's umbrella.

Don't buy your 'almost' story, Trader. By the way, it's Scandinavia.


Foster Huntington said...

well put

tintin said...

LPC- I'm willing to sell mine.

Stew - 'To be reeeeaaaal'...Isn't that a disco song?

ADG- I was wondering the same thing.

Alice- Nice one. I'd have a better chance buying a Monet than being chased down by a beautiful woman.

Danny- I remember being a 14/32 in the army. They had my size too.

Family Man- Nice couple days in NYC coming up.

Trailer Trad- Thanks and thanks for linking your site.

Joe- They'll make the journey. Trust me. And they'll walk right on by some wonderful and unique shops not to mention Phoebe Cates.

I have a Crew outlet button down collar in a gray university stripe oxford without a pocket that I love. I think it was $8. Only problem is the cotton. After wearing it for 3 hours it's like wearing a hair shirt. I often wonder where on earth they found the material. Maybe the 3M plant.

Glengary- Once you're over 45, who cares if you're fat. I'm just happy my ass isn't sagging. I have that to look forward to.

Fat Friend- The story is not for sale. Not yet. I hate it when you correct my spelling. BTW, it's fella. I don't farm.

Anonymous said...

Fellah in my father's country, old fellow. And I only do it because I detect flashes of competence in your stuff and consider that you may be worth saving.


Anonymous said...

I recently shopped in the J. Crew store at Georgetown Park Mall in D.C. A seemingly knowledgable associate informed me that they are looking for the right spot to open a J. Crew Mens Store in the District of Columbia. I can't wait.

Anonymous said...

Did I miss it in the body of your text, if so pardon me, but that which lies behind the vault appears to be an entirely separate business from J. Crew, ie "Hickoree's Hard Goods."


Anonymous said...

Wow, great post and great comment thread. I would totally buy a book full of old J. Crew catalogs. I've searched a few times on ebay for old catalogs, but never found any more than 10 years old.