above: A cashmere affair, image credited to Jcrew September catalog 2011

This is a very focused catalog. There’s no whimsical storyline as in the past. Instead the catalog reads like a newspaper with all the major headliners — the blazer, cashmere sweaters, silk shirts, pencil skirts, the coat, and minnies. The September catalog left me with one major impression. Almost from the get-go, Jcrew wants their core customers to know its a stockup season. There are staple colors and new colors in favorite items. There are a few hints of Madewell in the eyewear, one poncho, a fedora and one shirt but all the other more modern diversions are not depicted.

Unfortunately, the new catalog isn’t inspiring. I’m not sure why it makes a difference but it does. I’ve never taken the catalog literally. Meaning, the more couture pairing ideas are used as creative inspiration but not to be repeated in reality. But at least the more unusual imagery from last year’s catalogs got my creative juices going. But the September catalog is too product driven to be inspiring.

Out of the regular priced merchandise, the men’s tartans are far more attractive than the women’s tartan and plaid. The MacAlister wedges are lovely and silk shirts are looking strong. Which of the three silk shirt styles are your favorites? As for sale items, its been slim pickings. The sale sweaters have an odd fit. But the jewelry from Lulu Frost are lovely and probably the most distinctive thing out there.

What’s exciting — old and new
Out of the new brands — Madewell has a clear identity and that identity is amazing. Independent of price (and that says a lot), I love Madewell style. It isn’t conveyed well on the website or in photos since the style is understated.
Madewell is classic, not in the image of elegance centered on blazers and pencil skirts, but a more natural elegance clearly rooted in American identity. Sure, they have rompers and long tunics for the younger demographic. But they also have gorgeous silk in more naturalistic colors with accents in geometric patterns.

Out of the old brands — Levis is like a more inexpensive Madewell in standard Americana gear (inexpensive in price though not in quality). The brand has unbelievably bad marketing yet amazing product and style. The main difference is that Levis is a denim store through and through. It doesn’t move beyond that territory much, whereas Madewell only uses denim as a starting point.

J. Crew Factory is looking nice, but there’s more chaff than wheat, so it really pays to go to the store instead of buying online. The pictures on the website are so much better than the product. In the past, Factory has had poor quality for the price point, but there are some notable exceptions.

Going forward
– Starting the third week of September we might see more of the late summer items being discounted, though I’m hoping for more fall merchandise.
– I’ve yet to see much response to Madewell on ebay, but its a labor of love, so there’ll be Madewell items here and there over time.