Tuesday, July 27, 2010

NYT's Critical Shopper Talks J.Crew Bridal Boutique

"Thanks!" to many of you, including Robin, Antonia, wellfedfred, Raina, & Heidi, who let us know about an article over at the Critical Shopper from the New York Times (click here to read it in its entirety):
Calling Indie Brides and D.I.Y.-ers
By Ruth La Ferla

July 20, 2010

“TIGHTER, tighter.” Elizabeth Lippman was rasping instructions to Marcey, a sales assistant. Quick to oblige, Marcey adjusted the clamps on her gown to give it its requisite cling. “I feel like Scarlett O’Hara,” Ms. Lippman murmured. Sure, but could she breathe? “That’s irrelevant!” she said.

After all, you don’t get married every day. And Ms. Lippman was determined to make the most of her mid-September nuptials in a dress that stuck like shrink-wrap to her curves.

We were admiring her reflection in a three-way mirror downstairs at the J.Crew bridal boutique on Madison Avenue, lounging in the shop’s sanctum sanctorum, a hushed gray-on-taupe salon accented with a cinnabar-tone screen. Otherwise, it was as spare as a cave. The understatement was echoed upstairs, where herringbone floors, bouquets of pink peonies and shelves lined with distressed-leather volumes beckon to brides with an eye to tradition.

Any suggestion, though, that the shop caters expressly to debs was undercut by playfully insolent merchandising. Mannequins slouched or sat cross-legged, their turnouts much in keeping with the studiedly raffish aesthetic of Jenna Lyons, the company’s creative director and newly named president. A tulle skirt was accessorized with arresting incongruity by a cotton flak jacket; a bouffant skirt was paired with a black cashmere sweater and pearls, in “a totally cute riff,” Ms. Lippman observed, on Sharon Stone at the Oscars, famously pairing a Gap T-shirt with her Valentino skirt.

J. Crew, which has been in the bridal business online since 2004 but opened this store only in May, is courting fashion indies, brides like Ms. Lippman, who envision their weddings — the invitations, the flowers, the gowns — as pristine canvases to dress up as their own.

Take-charge moms, who tend to hijack such proceedings, would be redundant here. Instead a small squadron of advisers offers styling suggestions intended to supply character and inventiveness to gowns that are fetching in a nondescript way.

Shown by appointment, the dresses are plain by design. “Bodies,” as they are known in garment speak, vary from voluminous sailcloth gowns to silky bias-cut Jean Harlow shapes. A regal tiered column caught Ms. Lippman’s eye, never mind its $3,500 price tag.

Could she have a closer look? Well, really, there wasn’t much point. “With expensive dresses we only make one in each size,” said Noelle, Marcey’s otherwise accommodating other half. The gown was out of stock. “Once its gone, it’s gone,” she added, slightly more boastful than sorry. The shop carries a strictly limited selection of gowns in the $3,000-to-$4,000 range.

OF course, there were plenty of other “girls,” as the dresses are known. Although her wedding will take place at a seaside retreat in Montauk, N.Y., Ms. Lippman, a photographer who is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, was holding out for full-on glamour. A beach dress? “Forget it. I want a gown.”

“O.K., let’s start with Sasha,” Noelle offered soothingly, whisking into the fitting room a strapless silk taffeta ball gown tagged at a relatively modest $1,500. Though Ms. Lippman had pointedly specified that she wears a Size 4 or 6, the dress was a sample Size 8, requiring Marcey to make vigorous adjustments with a set of clamps.

“The fit is fine,” Ms. Lippman insisted, gasping, “so long as I hold my Venus-on-the-clamshell pose.” Marcey, meanwhile, drew out a succession of sashes — one with a fatigued-looking dahlia stitched to its side ($125), another encrusted with jet ($295) — to define the waistline and add some oomph.

The Goddess, the Allegra and the Tulip were brought out in quick succession, Ms. Lippman darting into the fitting room and reappearing each time in a look more subdued than the last. Assessing an A-line gown made of crinkled chiffon ($1,800), she was skeptical.

“Definitely this needs work,” she said of the dress, which indeed had the charm of a chenille bedspread. The extensive tailoring that might have lent it some allure would have set her back an extra $500, at least.

There are distinct advantages to shopping here, not least the hyper-attentive service and speedy delivery. If a dress is in inventory, it is shipped in four to seven days, we were told. Upstairs, an array of accessories and underpinnings, including Wolford tights, sequined tap pants and Miriam Haskell for J. Crew multistrand pearls, are red-carpet-worthy. And although corseting is built into many of the gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses here, the shop stocks a robust selection of Spanx.

Alterations, however, are not on the menu. “That’s not the business we’re in,” Marcey said bluntly.
Hmm. ... “They expect you to make the adjustments,” Ms. Lippman mused.

In recent years J. Crew has tweaked its offerings to cater to more rarefied tastes. But it’s unlikely that any amount of clever styling will persuade some clients to pay caviar prices for a brand that is founded on khakis and tees.

The thought seemed to give Ms. Lippman pause, but she went on shopping nonetheless, her head turned by a vest made of pink Mongolian lamb ($895). Told that it was out of stock, she was relieved.

“It’s O.K. to like this,” she consoled herself. “After all, it’s not for sale.”
AMBIENCE Inspired by a Parisian salon, the store is a model of calm decorum, relieved here and there by playful downtown touches.

EXTRAS You don't have to be a bride to linger over the diva-esque brooches, chokers and ear drops, or the lingerie, so raffiné you might be tempted to wear it as outerwear.

SERVICE Sisterly. The styling is collaborative. As one client noted, "It lets the bride in on her own transformation."
"Hmm" is about right for me. The service & attention at the store sounds exceptional. (Although it is appointment only. Right now, they are booked solid for a few months.) However, I am less excited about only having one of each dress and not offering alterations.

What are your thoughts on the article's take of the Wedding Boutique on Madison Avenue? Are you excited about its arrival? Do you think you will shop there? :)


  1. Real brides don't wear j.crew. That's for bridesmaids only.

  2. Great post!

    What a bizarre comment by Christy though... The success of J. Crew's bridal line indicates that plenty of "real brides" wear it. And trying to invalidate a choice that so many have made is pretty gauche.

  3. I thought that article was interesting and provided an in-depth glimpse into J.Crew's bridal store for those who don't plan on getting married anytime soon, or for those who already have.

    As far as I'm concerned, "real brides" wear whatever reflects their personality makes them feel beautiful... whether that dress is J.Crew, Vera Wang, or a random unknown designer, who cares?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I didn't know there was such a thing as a 'real' bride and a fake bride. Thanks for the clarification, christy. :| *eyeroll*

    I think jcrew bridal dresses are all well and good (and I hope for shorter hemlines!), but something about this article rubbed me the wrong way. The tone is just so... nouveau riche.

  6. My daughter and I stopped into the Madison Ave. bridal boutique a couple of weeks ago after it caught my eye as we strolled up the street.

    It's a small space and it was filled with brides-to-be, mothers and bridesmaids. Many dresses are on display to the left with jewelry and accessories to the right...fun to check out and I think they'll definitely draw the "JCA" brides-to-be!!

  7. I wish J Crew had made wedding gowns when I got married. I couldn't find anything other than Vera Wang and similar designers way out of my price range that had the kind of simple styling I wanted.

    I don't understand them not doing alteration. Few brides are going to be able to fit things right off the rack and this is usually a service a decent bridal store provides.

  8. I cannot WAIT to buy my dress from J.Crew. I wear J.Crew almost every day and love the style, so why wouldn't I want my wedding dress to be J.Crew? I've been very low key when planning my wedding, so J.Crew's bridal collection is right up my alley.


  9. My wedding dress was from J. Crew and I loved it. It was simple and classy; something that will be timeless. I feel that anyone can wear a J. Crew wedding dress if the dress falls in their budget.

  10. I agree with all the comments. It's a snotty sounding article. J.Crew wants to run with the big dogs, but their "oh, we have only one in each size", is really a deal killer. They'll never run out of bridemaids dresses, but if you see the one you want, your hopes are most likely get shot down if the dress is sold out. Big designers make their dresses to order and will size you and alter it until it is perfect.

    For the price you pay, you're not getting much for your money. If you are a bride that doesn't care about the experience of buying your dress, getting fitted, then jcrew will probably be for you. There are plenty of simple dresses out there that don't come with a hefty price tag. If I'm going to drop $3-4k on a dress, the company should probably make sure it looks good on me.

    I've just never seen anything I'd want for myself, but when I outfitted my bridesmaids, it was the easiest task to get them in all the dresses they'd want.

  11. Actually, the article made a point of saying that the store is for the "DIY bride." I don't get this at all, but I am clearly not their target, and nothing in the windows tempts me to even consider dumping a perfectly good husband for the joy of an appointment at the bridal store. However, for the curious, the bridal store is right on a very convenient bus line for me (work, errands, etc), and although I sit on the right every time I can so I can gawk at it, I have yet to observe any Secret Service activity.

  12. The dresses I've seen from J. Crew are all beautiful, but if a bride wants a dress that has the sewn-for-her-only feel, why not actually support an independent designer and go for that? Especially at the prices J. Crew is charging? It seems silly to go with the charade of the J. Crew bridal store when there are lots of great designers out there making custom dresses.

    Of course, the shipping time for the dresses is impressive. If a bride is on a time limit and can find something quickly (and obviously someone to do the alterations with a quick turnaround), shopping at the J. Crew bridal store is probably great.

  13. I don't get it, but I don't get a lot about the wedding-industrial complex (and I say this as someone who has been married twice and had big weddings both times). I just can't get my brain around purchasing a $3-4K dress. That said, I was quite taken by JC's early bridal offerings--fresh, unpretentious, and very affordable. (For #2 I wound up getting a sample at a local couture shop for almost nothing, but I very nearly ordered one of JC's early simple strapless gowns.)

    I also think that the article was snarky and didn't really make sense. Is "in a dress that stuck like shrink-wrap to her curves" is catty reporter-speak for "she looks fat in that"? And "indie/DIY bride"? An indie bride is going to find a vintage dress or wear something from a local designer, not a mail order catalog company, even if that company is trying to go upscale with a fancy salon and only one dress in each size.

  14. For many a bride, JCrew fits the bill nicely. Sure it's niche area but not everyone has a Madison Ave to shop or Kleifelds (I love Say Yes to the Dress!)nearby or can afford to spent thousands of dollars on a dress. In smaller towns and metro areas it is not uncommon to purchase the dress (even couture) and have to take it elsewhere for alterations.

    Agreed some of the offerings are a bit unusual or perhaps above the ideal target price of where JCrew should be but perhaps those are the ones that draw interest into the store and I don't find it unusual to not have the dress in stock. Most bridal stores that are small keep a sample and then order.


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! :)