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J. Crew Pushes Accessories to the Front

J. Crew could never be accused of taking shoes and accessories for granted, especially since its first catalogue devoted to the categories is dropping on Friday and an expanded assortment of products went live on its Web site Monday.

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NEW YORK — J. Crew could never be accused of taking shoes and accessories for granted, especially since its first catalogue devoted to the categories is dropping on Friday and an expanded assortment of products went live on its Web site Monday.

A collage of footwear, handbag and jewelry images greets visitors to the jcrew.com home page, which connects directly to the new online accessories shop, where J. Crew's new fine jewelry collection can also be found.

"In the past couple of years we've been looking at elevating every category," said Jenna Lyons Mazeau, creative director of J. Crew. "When we actually looked at our shoes and accessories we realized we weren't really highlighting them. We're primarily seen as a clothing company. This [catalogue] is to bring them out and show them. We realized we weren't speaking loudly enough."

Lyons said the shoe business has increased incrementally. "It's something that kept growing," she said. "People kept asking for more. We ended up having this really broad range of shoes." A recent search of the J. Crew Web site turned up 97 different shoe styles. One of the most expensive, the Tivoli ballet flat in python, is priced at $398. "Our shoes are made in Italy and snakeskin is rare," Lyons said. "It's speaking to a slightly more sophisticated customer."

Handbags are still an underdeveloped area, but won't be for long. "That's an amazing opportunity," Lyons said. "We're looking for ways to build on our Uptown tote. We're looking at how we can make our [handbag collection] larger and exploit it online. We're doing precious skins for fall. We're frustrated with what we see going on with designer handbags. The prices are insane and the [devaluation] of the dollar has made things worse. We want to be very conscientious. Can a handbag be $700 or $800? Sure. But do we want to get to $1,200? We want to win people's trust with the quality of the goods without doing it big and expensive."

So far, J. Crew has experienced no resistance to its prices. That, and the success of its costume jewelry, encouraged the company to launch fine jewelry. Items in the collection include a 10-karat gold boule ring with pearl, $495; a 10-karat gold pearl frog ring, $438; an opera-length pearl necklace, $450, and a ribbon-tied long pearl necklace, $200.
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"This is our first foray into fine jewelry," said Lyons Mazeau. "We want to be approachable. Each individual piece is quite delicate. This allows people to see what can do with fine jewelry. We're opening a store on Madison Avenue focused on the Collection portion of our business. We're going to have a separate case designated for fine jewelry in that store. We'll be doing some specialty pieces there with semiprecious stones and playing with other weights of gold."

J. Crew plans to open its first Collection store, a 2,500-square-foot unit, in June at 1035 Madison Avenue near 79th Street here.

The company will introduce a few unique higher-priced products each season. "It's always fun to do a standout piece," Lyons said. "We had a sequin jacket that we sold online made from hand-painted sequins. It was $3,000 and it sold out in two days. When it's quality, the customer gets it. We're looking at doing special incredible pieces."
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