Nov. 08 - American retailer J. Crew, which has many high-profile fans like Michelle Obama in its home market, is beginning a push into the UK, and opening its first stores outside of North America. As the flagship on London’s Regent Street opens, Joanna Partridge speaks to the firm’s Chairman and CEO Millard Drexler and asks how the fashionistas’ favourite will fare on Britain’s competitive high street and with its price-conscious consumers.
Londoners waiting to buy some New York style. American retailer J. Crew brought its first store outside North America to the UK capital's Regent Street. It's also opening a womenswear boutique and menswear-only store as it looks to crack the British market. Millard Drexler, J. Crew's CEO and Chairman, was welcomed to the British high street by retail titan Sir Philip Green, boss of the Arcadia groups and brands such as Topshop. Mickey Drexler, as he's known, believes J. Crew can offer British consumers something different. SOUNDBITE: Millard Drexler, J. Crew CEO and Chairman, saying (English): "I think there's a matter of quality and a matter of the J. Crew quirkiness and emotional message that we bring here, that we don't feel is represented in the UK." The fashion chain is known for its individual, preppy style. At home, that's won it some high-profile customers like First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters. Other big U.S. retailers have seen London as a gateway to Europe. Drexler admits the flagship store is a way to test the international waters. SOUNDBITE: Millard Drexler, J. Crew CEO and Chairman, saying (English): "We're ready to move beyond the bounds of the U.S. We've worked a number of years at creating, positioning, designing and moving forward in America. We are now currently planning Hong Kong and we're looking everywhere but moving slowly. We're in no hurry, we just want to be right not fast." Few if any other London store openings have attracted so much attention. J. Crew now have to convert that into sales. And shoppers used to U.S. prices will find them more expensive in pounds. Ana Santi, deputy editor of fashion industry magazine Drapers, believes UK consumers will pay for quality. SOUNDBITE: Ana Santi, Deputy Editor, Drapers, saying (English): "I think time will tell, I think in the beginning we'll definitely see people rushing to the store, buying lots of products, and it will be interesting to see what happens in six months' time. But certainly the hunger for the brand, in this year, leading up to the opening has been so strong that it suggests the future looks positive." Big retail chains are increasingly looking at international expansion as a way to ensure growth. But it's not just U.S. firms going abroad - following strong sales growth in the UK and Europe, budget chain Primark is also reportedly considering a move across the Atlantic.