J. Crew commits to wedding line

After falling 30% in 2003, to $173.5 million, J. Crew’s direct sales are back on the rise, hitting $193.5 million in 2004. Some of that growth is doubtless due to the successful debut of the New York-based clothing merchant’s line of wedding apparel.

The $804.0 million cataloger/retailer began carrying a few wedding gowns in its catalogs in February 2004. It now also sells shoes, dresses for bridesmaids as well as outfits suitable for groomsmen. Wedding gown prices range from $195 for a short silk Madelyn dress to $1,195 for the beaded linen Jenna gown.

Providing high quality at a competitive price was a top concern with getting into the bridal market, says Jenna Lyons, J. Crew’s senior vice president of women’s design. “We find that the prices for our line compare closest to those of major department stores that also sell wedding apparel.” Most such stores’ wedding dresses range from $1,000 to $3,000.

In terms of style, the J. Crew merchandise is relatively simple and streamlined, like the brand’s clothing overall, with a minimum of beading and lace. “We like to think of our line as classic, clean, and playful,” Lyons says. “Many brides-to-be want to focus on summery, brighter colors — like a hot pink dress with coral shoes.” The line also features a wide variety of deep jewel tones for fall and winter weddings, complete with both longer and dressier gowns, she adds.

At your service

The wedding line is available only from the J. Crew catalog and Website; its 157 stores do not carry wedding items, because the company wanted to ensure high and consistent customer service levels. A 13-person staff at the company’s special-occasions division at its Lynchburg, VA, distribution center assists would-be brides in matching color and fabric swatches, making recommendations for coordinating ties and clothing accessories.

The employees have even gone so far as to offer wedding party gifts and honeymoon suggestions. “We’re not a wedding planning service per se,” Lyons says, “but we do try to act in an overall advisory role if so requested.”

This past April, J. Crew invited customers who had contacted its special-occasions division to its New York and Chicago trunk shows — where merchants present their merchandise directly to customers. Each show featured six dress styles in a range of sizes for brides-to-be to try on. This fall J. Crew will conduct three more trunk shows, in Atlanta, Boston, and San Francisco.

The trunk shows coincided with the mailing of J. Crew’s first stand-alone catalog of wedding apparel. The company won’t share circulation or response information for the 56-page spin-off.

But apparently response was strong enough that the company is readying an even larger edition for 2006, though according to spokesperson Heather Lynch, the book isn’t a done deal yet. The forthcoming book will feature, among other new items, men’s tuxedos and an expanded line of shoes, wraps, and accessories for women. And in its holiday 2005 catalog, J. Crew will unveil an assortment of formal men’s neck and bowties.

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