Joining the London Crew

“Ohmygodyouknowwhat? I love J Crew!” I heard a girl squeal as she passed the American brand’s new London store on the oh-so-desirable and revitalized Regent Street – which now eclipses the famous-but-tired Oxford Street for footfall – and has seen (and will continue to see) the opening of grand new emporiums for the likes of Gant, Hackett and Tommy Hilfiger, whereas the street that Selfridges calls home gets, er, a new Primark.

If you are a brand with grand ambitions, Regent Street is your spiritual home – at least in London. The bricks and mortar in which you retail your wares are large and, in many cases, elegant and spectacular. The street also has an attractive and unique beauty in it’s famous curve, which enables you to see the splendid facades of the buildings as you walk towards them without craning your neck in the middle of a busy pavement. As a thoroughfare, it takes some beating.

Which is probably why J Crew selected a site halfway up the street in an imposing double-fronted property; the footfall alone would seem to justify the expense. Strange then that instead of taking advantage of this position and pricing their products relatively advantageously – in other words, pricing in order to increase sales volume and consequent brand exposure in a new market – they have priced themselves as a luxury brand.

Let’s be clear about this, some of J Crew’s product is relatively good quality and of good design. A few items are as good as Ralph Lauren’s entry level products and most are superior to Banana Republic – another US brand which made the mistake of pricing products in their London store too high – but the fundamental mistake that J Crew have made with their expensive and high-profile English adventure is not understanding the UK, and specifically, the London retail market; a mistake made by many mid-tier brands that arrive on these shores.

An overcoat in J Crew that was barely better in construction and finish than one from Zara was £500; almost four times the price of one from the Spanish brand and considerably more expensive than a made-to-measure option from premium sister brand Massimo Dutti. A pocket square, even in cotton, is a breathtaking £55. Pair of wool suit trousers will set you back £250. These are Hackett prices – indeed, many of them are above Hackett, hitting RL level – and yet the quality and elegance of Hackett  or RL is, for the most part, not evident.

Sartorially, some of the clothing is attractive but you would have to question why anyone would purchase a £700-800 off the rack suit from this, let’s face it, high-street American clothier when you can pop around to a London tailor and get one made fully bespoke for about £100-200 more.

Once again, it seems that a newbie foreign retailer has either neglected to properly research one of the most famous and ruthless trading environments on the planet, or they simply, and rather naively, believe their pricing model will lift them into the realms of being a ‘luxury brand’ – J Crew is no designer label and yet their prices seek to place it alongside genuine catwalk names like Hilfiger and Lauren. Either way, they should be aware of one very important factor: Londoners, and the people who visit the place, are no fools. The competitiveness of the retail environment has seen to that. Those squealing customers who love the stateside J Crew may be somewhat surprised by the version of the brand that is presenting itself to the UK capital.