Wednesday, January 20, 2010

J.Crew News: The Cult Of J.Crew

"Thanks!" to RatsOnParade & SC Crew, who let us know there is an article about J.Crew's customer following over at Forbes (click here to read the article in its entirety).
The Cult Of J.Crew
By Leah Bourne
January 20, 2010

This shouldn't come as a shock: It's a bleak time for retailers. Stores have gone out of business, 70% off sales have become de rigueur and women are shopping in their closets rather than whipping out their credits cards to spend.

But while most retailers have been suffering through this millennium's version of the Great Depression, J.Crew is having its golden era. First Lady Michelle Obama wore J. Crew while gabbing on Jay Leno's couch in 2008 and the first daughters donned Crewcuts, a children's line, to the inauguration. J.Crew's creative director, Jenna Lyons, has taken on fashion icon status comparable to the likes of superstar designers like Donna Karan and Miuccia Prada ("Jenna's picks," which are updated monthly on JCrew.com, often sell out).


And J.Crew's recent success is more than just hype. The company reported 14% revenue growth for the third quarter of 2009 over 2008 and strong holiday sales. The retailer has managed to become fashion's glimmer of hope that women still like to shop, recession be damned. (As if there was any doubt.)
...

J.Crew was founded in 1983 by Arthur Cinader in the hopes of capitalizing on the success of The Official Preppy Handbook and Ralph Lauren. J.Crew was to be the price conscious antidote for the growing legions of yuppie shoppers. Cinader created a glossy catalogue complete with photography that looked like it belonged on the editorial pages of a glossy magazine and which propelled the brand into the spotlight. The company, while initially a runaway success, hit a wall in the late 1990s. Texas Pacific, known for their ability to turn around flailing companies, bought a stake in the company in 1997. The company went through several CEOs before landing on miracle worker Millard "Mickey" Drexler, former CEO of the Gap.


J.Crew quickly morphed into a store that appealed to younger shoppers making investment purchases, Birkin Bag-toting soccer moms cutting back on splurges at Neiman Marcus and career-centric women who can't get enough of the pencil skirts and slim trousers. It's a recession-proof model that few stores imitate--$500 sequin and tulle skirts expertly sit next to their $150 counterparts, with skillfully put together mannequins to help shoppers style the look for evening (with a silk tank) and for the office (with a T-shirt and belted wool sweater). Every purchase seems like a great buy.


Eric Beder, a retail analyst for Brean Murray Carret & Co., says, "J.Crew has become an expert in recasting timeless classics into current fashion must-haves." Their recent best-sellers have been metallic ballet flats, T-shirts trimmed in chiffon, colorful cashmere sweaters, rhinestone jewelry and oversized blazers.


Reflecting on J.Crew's recent success, Drexler told investors on a recent conference call: "It's about product, it's about quality, it's about design, it's about service, it's about creativity." Corporate speak, sure, but Drexler knows that his company's success isn't thanks to a celebrity endorsement or the latest wash of jeans. It has to do with consistency. J.Crew's biggest fans wax poetic about J.Crew's reliable sizes, which allow them to shop easily online. They applaud the line's color palette with a range from basic black to trendy lime green. And they love that they can buy everything from a $115 retro one-piece bathing suit to a $2,500 lace wedding gown. ...
The author at Forbes, Leah Bourne, actually contacted me about this article in December. I responded back about being happy to contribute by email (as to not reveal myself). I never heard back from her. What's up Leah, why overlook the J.Crew Aficionada blog? I am a bit bummed out that Ms. Bourne did not think I nor this blog (driven by all the fabulous JCAs), were worth mentioning let alone following up with. {sniffle} Oh well, I am not bitter! Maybe a little bit... ;)

What are your thoughts on the article? Do you agree or disagree with any of the points made?

59 comments:

  1. Sorry Alexis, but from my experience as a journalist I'd have to agree with her. If at all possible I would not quote anyone who does not identify themselves. Congratulations on being contacted though. It means important people are reading! :-)

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  2. Rosie, that makes sense about needing identifiable sources. However, it would have been nice if she let me know. Like a complete dork, I was waiting to hear back from her. ;)

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  3. Congrats Alexis and to all JCAs! Somebody cares about what we say!

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  4. Bah! Who needs them anyway, we all know this blog drives the interest of clothing...otherwise why so many visits in one day, J.Crew Big Brother?

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  5. Gata: I really hope J.Crew cares what we say. :)

    Christy: Thanks for the nice words. And yes, someone at J.Crew Group does visit this blog way too much per day. I am surprised he/she/they haven't left a comment already! ;)

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  6. Alexis, that's still very cool!

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  7. I agree with some of the article and think it swas especially true in the 2005 to 2007 timeframe. As a working mom I do love the pencil skirts. I also think the prices have crept up and the quality crept down. The shipping policy drives me nuts yet I continue to shop there.

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  8. OK, this bit from the article was a real gem:

    "J.Crew's biggest fans wax poetic about J.Crew's reliable sizes, which allow them to shop easily online."

    Sometimes I think journalists just make stuff up.

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  9. "Reliable sizes"? Even the most Crewlade-addicted JCA would not say that this is Crew's strong suit. The author didn't get that info from reading *this* blog.

    "Reliable offerings" might be a better way of explaining my continued interest in JC. Notwithstanding the oft-mentioned problems with quality, fit, etc., the overall consistency and cohesion of the merchandise is what keeps me coming back to JC rather than Nordstrom, etc.

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  10. I love this blog and the wonderful little community that has been created, so thank you much, Alexis, for your devotion.

    I have to admit with the article, as much as I complain about the sometimes-weird sizing, upping pricing and down-creeping quality, I still pine for their new arrivals and chock my closet full of their gear. When's their next big release of items? :o)

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  11. Sorry about the interview snub, but like Rosie said, most journalists (I was also a J-school student) choose to not use sources who won't identify themselves. But you're right in that you should have at least gotten a "No thanks" response to your email after you told her your conditions. Maybe she just forgot? But you know that we all appreciate you here! Yay for Alexis and JCA!!!

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  12. Dancing as Fast,

    I agree with parts of the article too as well as your comments about 2005-2007. I however, have seriously cut back in the past year on my JC Addiction. The quality is going down on some items and I dislike their high shipping and high minimums to get it.

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  13. Waxing poetic... seriously? Alexis, imo, if JCrew corporate is reading the blog regularly, then they are fools for not being supportive of the work you do. This has got to be one of, if not THE MOST read blog about JCrew. The work you put in is immeasureable in terms of free exposure and publicity. I remember you saying something about them looking at this blog as a thorn in their side. They need to get their act together, read the comments and pay serious attention to what their customers are writing. They might be high on the hog right now, but that can change! (Stepping off my soapbox...)

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  14. Alexis I was wondering about JC visiting way too much in a day without sounding too much like a dork, and not knowing how your software program is set up, could it be from JCA's visiting the blog after been on JC site? I know I do.

    I fell in love with JC in 2005 after a visit to a store, I am quickly falling out of love with them due to quality, price and CS attitude from my problem with my last order.

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  15. Well, since people are blogging anonymously about J. Crew, journalists should be willing to quote influential bloggers without needing their real names. It is part of the story and part of the Internet world.

    Maybe it's just me, but J. Crew's current clothes don't look very preppy with all the ruffles. It is a really interesting place to shop but seems more trendy than classic to me.

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  16. I forgot to comment on the line colorful cashmere sweaters are best sellers, seems to me there were an lots available and not moving very fast in the FS section.

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  17. Casey: Thanks :)

    Dancing as Fast as I Can & Summer: I agree with you both! Some points made felt 100% true for me a few years ago. But now, I feel like there's some uncertainty with some pieces.

    Cass: Too funny! ;)

    Hexicon: I like "reliable offerings" instead too. And much like you, the overall merchandise keeps me coming back for more. :)

    Lisa: You are so sweet! I love our little community too! :) As for next roll-out, many JCAs have reported next week (around the 24-26th of January). :)

    Amy Kelinda: Thanks for understanding my snub and the nice words. :) For a journalist, I get that it make sense to use identifiable sources. But like you said, a "no thanks" email would have been nice. Ah well! ;)

    JBird: I know! I would love for J.Crew to be supportive. But I can't even get them to send me press releases. ;) Instead, they go out of their way to punish those related to the JCA Blog (like when they shut down and canceled all those JCA Shopping events because they were mentioned on this blog). Maybe, maybe one day J.Crew will love the JCA Blog back. A girl can dream, right? ;)

    Casual-Crew: The software shows someone (maybe more than one) from the "J.Crew Group" coming to the JCA blog from the corporate headquarters in NYC. So it's not from customers being redirected from thei J.Crew website. (Also, the software shows me where visitors are being sent from, if from a website, engine search, etc.)

    Lady Cardigan: I agree that J.Crew is ruffle-focused as of lately. I still love the ruffles, but even I (yes me! Ms. Ruffles) am getting a wee bit tired of it. :)

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  18. You were contacted by Forbes magazine- that is impressive!! "They" are certainly reading your blog- congratulations and thanks for all of your hard work.

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  19. Hi Alexis--This is the author of the article. Must have been some kind of email snafu because I did email you back. My apologies about that because I did appreciate your response. Keep me posted on what you're up to with your site! Best, Leah leah [at] leahbourne.com

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  20. Woobie: Thank you for the nice words! I appreciate it. :)

    Leah: Thanks for letting me know. Like I mentioned before, I was waiting to hear back from you (like a complete dork excited by the request I responded to your request on the same day ). I am not sure what happened, but I never got the follow-up email from you. But it's good to know you did want to hear from the JCA blog. :)

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  21. Since the article focused on "The Cult of J.Crew" it seems to me that a large part of the "cult" was completely left out of the article - namely the JCA blog. If the author thought the blog was significant enough to contact you Alexis, then it should have been included with or without a quote from you. Congratulations that your blog is being read and appreciated for its value in the J.Crew community!

    And I can almost guarantee that J.Crew corporate uses this blog as a market research tool. They would have to be fools (and they are not fools) to overlook such a valuable information vehicle. The information on this blog is absolutely priceless. They couldn't pay for the kind of information this blog generates if they wanted to.

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  22. Love J.Crew... but it's getting pricey. I used to shop here all the time, and now I'm appalled that I have to pay $40 plus dollars for a cute t-shirt. Something is wrong with that.

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  23. Interesting article! I work at a J.Crew and I have been surprised how well J.Crew is still doing with the economy! Oh, how I LOVE J.Crew! :)

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  24. AJ,
    It is funny you mention the high price on the tees. They are popular I know but something I pass up each time unless I see them at $9.99 or less...$40 for a tee whether embellished or not just is not for me!

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  25. I have had several experiences where I buy the same exact pants, sweaters or top but in a different color and the size and fit are completely different. My impression is that J.Crew doesn't consider fit important. There are many ways they could cut down on returns - they don't seem to care that much. I recently returned a pair of shoes because the front didn't look like I had imagined and the website only showed a side view. I returned them at a store and the clerk said he gets tons of shoe returns for that reason. More pics and consistent sizing could cut way down on returns. Do other people notice inconsistent pics as far as colors go? I know that everyone has a different monitor but I will click on 3 different cashmere styles that have the same colors but the colors all look different. This lack of consistency is kind of a hallmark for J.Crew

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  26. LOL where did the author of the article get her information about "reliable sizes" from?

    I just returned an online only item in my size to the store yesterday because it was anything but "reliable" :)

    I always start huffing and puffing when I read Mickey Drexler's "quality" comments too...haha we still love you JCrew! :)

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  27. It's clear from the sophisticated shoppers that post here that part of the J.Crew cult is finding codes and getting good deals through smart shopping. It takes strength to wait for something you love to buy it at a good price when you know it could get sold out. I'm afraid that J.Crew will never encourage smart shopping. They want people to see the $40 tee and just buy it. Anyone who is a savvy J.Crew shopper knows to hold back. In that way JCA and J.Crew will always be at odds. Power to the People!

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  28. I have lots of the ~$40 embellished tees but NEVER pay full price. They pretty much always get marked down to make room for the next batch of tees. I have pretty much paid between $15-$25 for all of them, depending on how much I liked them.

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  29. Jane: I'd have to disagree with your point regarding retraining "cult" shoppers to buy full-price. I, for one, have totally changed my habits over the course of the past year, since so many of the items I really want have sold out so quickly (case in point, the paisley lawn shimmer dress, which sold out in approx. one week's time). (*sidenote, I will NOT be buying on full price...or any price for that matter...in the near future, sadly. Just in case anyone was wondering. Having no job will do that to you.*) Anyway, I think J.Crew has actually done an admirable job in convincing its customers to shop now and shop often. The merchandise changes up at the stores at a quick enough pace (usually, except for the Christmas-to-Resort transition) that the merchandise doesn't get stale. And, if you've got the means, you can always rebuy the same items and return with the original receipt (if you're concerned about SAs not doing price adjustments.)

    Oh...buying things. How I miss you so.

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  30. "Every purchase seems like a great buy"

    Someone was definitely drinking the crewlade when they wrote that article.

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  31. I think JCA blog should have been mentioned even if you were not able to do a formal interview.

    I must say even with J.Crew's inconsistent sizing and quality issues, I keep coming back to their style. It's a love-hate relationship I have with J.Crew...

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  32. Jane@6:09
    I shop the exact way you explained. JCrew has not retrained me at all. If it sells out, so what there are always sales, new items and cute clothes to be had. I feel I am a savvy JC shopper and I hold back. Never buy full price is my mantra.

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  33. Leah and Alexis,
    Next time send a second or third email. I always do if I don't get a response to something important. Just my 2 cents worth in the world of lost emails....

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  34. OT:
    Check out Land's End. New ladies markdowns and some great cashmere and cute tees and accessories to be had for super duper prices. Swim coverups and lots of sweaters cotton and wool. Tees for $7.99 with close to the body fit.
    Free shipping with $50 purchase through today.

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  35. Genny:
    I like that mantra - "never buy full price." I always feel guilty somehow when I buy something full price. I need some type of discount or promo with my purchases.

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  36. Hmmm I'm glad to see J. Crew is being recognized for its success, but I have to admit I have been completely uninspired by its offerings over the last 12 months. I will say, I LOVE their wedding gowns and wish they had so many options when I got married 2 years ago!

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  37. Interesting article unfortunately J.crew has driven me away with their inconsistent sizing and falling quality control. I think the rise in sales is due to them attracting a new demographic. Younger, less experienced shoppers who are more concerned with trends then fit and long term quality. JC is becoming another disposable brand.

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  38. Wanted to add, have been very impressed with Banana Republic's offerings as of late. I've found stylish quality clothing that I can actually wear to work. I'm always receiving discount codes good for full priced items and flat rate (if not free) shipping.

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  39. I agree with Shannon @7:54. I'm in my early twenties, and I got hooked on JCrew because of Jenna's Picks and their clothing being featured in the major fashion magazines (Elle, etc). I even got the credit card because I anticipated spending most of my clothing budget here. However, after several problems with the quality and customer service, I have scaled back majorly on my purchases. I may have gotten hooked because of the trendiness, but quality is equally important to me (especially in this economy where I can't drop $500 every time there are new offerings). There are many other brands out there that offer similar styles and more consistent quality, so I've happily moved on. But I still check this blog frequently to see if JCrew has improved any (free shipping w/no minimum, please? =)

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  40. They care - but yet they don't care. Reliable sizing, anyone?

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  41. Also - this is something else that drives me crazy

    I bought a dried orchid jackie shell. It was $19.99.
    Today I was browsing the sale section and the same sweater was $42.00

    Seriously??

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  42. Alexis, your blog has been so informative and helpful, I can see why J Crew personnel would want to frequent it. Another thought I had is that they check your information on sizing and colors and then go shopping online for themselves!! Wouldn't that be funny?
    I also laughed out loud about the "consistent sizing". This could not have been farther from reality! Case and point - I ordered another cashmere crewneck cardigan online and received it today; I ordered it in the same size as the one I bought at the store, since I like it so much and wear it a ton. Should fit me the same, right? Wrong! It looked nothing short of a potato sack on me. I scratched my head, went to my closet and got out the cardi I bought at the store - wouldn't you know it, the one I bought on line is at least 1" wider on either side of the body. That's what I call "consistent and reliable sizing". I am sorry for such a negative comment, but I am getting pretty sick of all the issues that other readers brought up, so I am not going to repeat them. Low quality and inconsistent sizing with a high price tag? No thank you, JCrew.

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  43. I have to agree with a number of comments, that the prices in stores and online should be the same. I bought the crystal lattice necklace at my B&M today (must have been a return) for $140. The same necklace is $325 on line! I'm glad I got a great deal, but it's really a pain when you are trying to figure out where and when to buy and item, and I think really unfair for people that don't live near a store.

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  44. And I also got a shipment today from ups, and J.Crew had sent me the wrong item. They actually sent me a very nice brand new coat style that was $100 more than what I ordered and paid for. However, I returned it to the store.

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  45. Heidi,
    Insande. JCrew has some serious shipping and warehouse issues. What item did you order instead of the (wrong) coat?

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  46. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  47. Jane, I totally agree that part of the shopping experience is getting a deal. I am so used to a free ship code at the very least now, I won't buy online without some kind of code. I have been retrained - to wait for a promo. Yes, some things sell out but it's true that there is almost always something new to desire, that is the nature of fashion.

    Shannon you have a point. I can say that I've seen 40-something women wearing the skull-patterned shirts and other ridiculous, unflattering trends too so unfortunately it's not only a case of youth. "Less experienced" as you say, is the key.

    DinDin, the Jackies from earlier fall/winter were not great so they probably tried to clear them out. Mine, in the dried orchid color, snagged terribly and felt more like synthetic than cotton. The quality was really poor IMO and I believe that is why we saw so many colors cleared out for such a low price recently. Hopefully the new releases have improved.

    I must confess to being a member of the cult. Whatever it is that J.Crew has, it keeps me coming back time and again.

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  48. One quality issue that is really bugging me is the quality of the cashmere. Some pilling, I can handle as I figure all clothing requires some maintenance. Its a bit like steaming out wrinkles.

    What I can't stand any more are the holes that develop out of nowhere, often after just a couple of wearings. Doesn't happen with every cashmere sweater, but has happened with every style I've purchased other than the short sleeve t-shirt. One cardi seems to spring holes everytime I wear it. And its not moths. My JC cashmere is stored with my AT cashmere. I have never had any holes appear in the AT cashmere, some of which is 10 years old.

    So I wrote JC customer service an e-mail about the problem, because I really want them to improve the cashmere quality. I love the colors and the cuts of their sweaters and I would buy more and at full-price if I could bank on the fact that I'd be able to enjoy the sweater for many seasons to come.

    The reply I got invited me to return all the defect sweaters that had developed holes (I listed 4 or 5 specifically in the e-mail), which was nice and something that I could do and get a fair return because I never throw away a JC receipt

    But the response was also irritating, because I was left with the distinct impression that JC was telling me that it no longer provides quality control and that was now up to me. And because JC does not seem to understand how disappointing it is to have to return an item that you really like and that makes you really happy to where.

    The response was also irritating for another reason. After pushing quality control on to me, CS attempted to blame me for the problem by suggesting that I was doing something wrong by handwashing cashmere that was labeled "dry clean." Guess someone in CS doesn't understand the difference between a "dry-clean only" label and a simple "dry clean" label and has forgotten JC's alliance with The Laundress, a company that thinks everything can be safely hand-washed.

    Alexis--thanks for providing me a place to vent!

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  49. Genny -
    I ordered the Long Boyfriend Blazer, black size 6, and they shipped me the Icon Trench, black, size 6. Honestly the Icon trench was beautiful, but I wouldn't have felt right keeping it.

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  50. Meme - I bought a number of long sleeve button up cashmere cardigans this season. Strange thing is, (or not strange for JC) is that some of them are holding up just fine, and others look like I've worn them for years. It depends on the color. The worst one is the burgundy color from fall/holiday, it has worn terribly in just a few wearings.

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  51. Alexis your blog definitely has kept me coming to J. Crew even when I'm not so happy with them as I am right now. Having them ship me wrong items (even when the receipt is correct) has got me so annoyed I cannot tell you. But your blog sort of keeps me enthused, even when there's no stock in the stores and I lose items because them ship me the wrong ones. J. Crew owes this blog a lot and I hope you get credit for that!

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  52. Heidi,
    Please share which colors are wearing well:) Thanks.

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  53. I ditto whoever said Land's End (Genny?). Their customer service is excellent. I'll be shopping more frequently with them, just because I'm finally fed up with companies that don't seem to appreciate my business. Most everyone (except Wall Street bankers) is doing more with less these days, and when I do spend my very hard earned money it's going to be somewhere that cares.

    Unlike many, I haven't had a ton of issues with J.Crew, but I'm tired of waiting around on a code to buy my shopping cart. In particular, it IRKS me that they have so many catalog/online only items that you have to pay to have shipped to you. It's not like I can go to the store and get it. Just about everyone else offers free shipping on a minimum, so J.Crew is just making a profit on shipping fees. As the Forbes article mentions, they're the only game in town if you want semi-reasonably priced, well cut clothes not made of polyester. Once BR/AT/et al figure it out, it's a wrap on my Crewlade addiction.

    One last note - for the J.Crew Corporate folks reading this - I'd feel alot better about paying full price if you guys said something about the labor used to make your clothes. I'll happily pay $58 for a beaded tee if I know all those little beads weren't put on the shirt by 6 year old.

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  54. First off, Alexis, I'm sorry that you haven't been receiving any of the promos and gifts that you obviously deserve to receive along with others. I suspect JCrew knows who you are, and among other things, they don't want to get involved in a situation where it looks like they are compensating you for this blog. (There was a recent stink about Gwyneth Paltrow and GOOP related to this, and her stay at a Moroccan hotel.)

    Second, this article confirms for me that JCrew is becoming a hot brand for wealthier ladies who are looking for disposible fashion. It's a hot brand right now with all of the buzz and price-consciousness, whether hypocritical or real. For Martha Stewart and others, cashmere at $150 a pop is cheap, and they don't expect it to last like the $500+ cashmere they are used to buying.

    I am not one with that kind of disposible income, which is why I have almost completely halted my JCrew purchases, except on deep discount. Like someone else mentioned, I became very tired of serving as their quality control dept.

    Based on comments here, along the lines of "yeah, the quality sucks, but they keep sucking me back in," as long as people keep buying, they'll keep on producing crappy, but often exciting and stylish, clothes.

    I've shopped around in the past couple of months, and I can say that JCrew processes and even ships (via regular ground) faster than almost anyone else. I can also say that other well-known "preppy" retailers have inconsistent sizing and send out things with holes, as I discovered over the holidays.

    My children's babysitter (college age) refuses to shop at JCrew, and tells me her friends refuse to as well, and that it is well known that their clothes fall apart. It is my understanding that it is known among people in the industry that JCrew's profits and success over the past couple of years have to do with cost-cutting measures that have impacted the quality of their goods.

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  55. Genny -
    when I took a close look at all my cashmere cardigans, I could see that they ALL had the same amount of bad looking wear (after only 2 wearings.) It's just that it shows up worse in the dark colors like the burgundy and black. I have them in 8 colors.

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  56. LLBean is coming out with a Signature Line in March. Looks exciting by the preview I saw in an email they sent me...LLBean says they are going to reproduce some oldies but goodies! Plus, more up to date fits in this line.

    And, yes, LE has the best customer service.

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  57. Everyone: Thanks for the nice words of support for me and the JCA blog. All of us have created and maintained a wonderful community that I am proud to be a part of. Again, thank you!

    McShoppy: I agree that part of the "cult" got overlooked. ;)

    Jane: Love your last line. "Power to the People" indeed! :)

    JCrewPhD: Thanks for the support. :)

    Genny: That is an excellent point. I should have followed up. :)

    Leslie: Thanks for the nice words. I agree that the community here is both informative and helpful. :)

    Meme: I know how you feel with the CSR response. Once in awhile, a J.Crew CSR makes me feel like I had done something wrong when I get a defective item. ;)

    Elizabeth: Thank you- you are too nice! :)

    In Recover: That is an excellent point about Paltrow. Although, I wouldn't mind feeling the love from J.Crew, even if it is in the form of being sent some press releases or emails. ;)

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Dear J.Crew Aficionadas & Aficionados: Please feel free (and encouraged) to share your thoughts and opinions. :) However, please note that this is still a personal blog. So comments that are considered inappropriate (e.g. obscene, racist, homophobic, personal attacks, rude, and just plain mean) will be removed.

And now back to J.Crew! :)