Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

    I shopped at Banana Republic and J. Crew to see which was having more success transforming its brand and winning over shoppers. The winner was clear.

    The author compared Banana Republic and J. Crew stores.

    Banana Republic and J. Crew are brands from a bygone era.Both brands are in the midst of desperately needed reinventions.I visited both stores to find out which is winning its comeback era.

    Banana Republic and J. Crew are brands from a bygone era when safari cargo dresses and jewel-adorned oxfords were smart, chic office wear.

    Today, both brands are in the midst of desperately needed reinventions.

    Gap Inc., which owns Banana Republic, has struggled to revive its appeal over the years. Third-quarter net sales were down 7% compared to last year. Banana Republic’s third-quarter sales of $460 million were down 11% year-over-year, and its same-store sales were down 8%.

    But Gap’s new CEO, Richard Dickson, has a strategy to reinvigorate the company’s portfolio. For Banana Republic, that means improving clothing quality and elevating its aesthetic to become a quiet luxury brand.

    Meanwhile at J. Crew, the brand has never quite been the same since creative director Jenna Lyons left in 2017. But that might be a good thing, as CEO Libby Wadle sees it. “I’m not trying to do much that goes back to what we once were,” she told the New York Times.

    J. Crew is privately held, so it does not report sales, but the Times reported that the company’s average order value is up.

    I visited both stores to see how far they’ve come and find out which is winning its comeback era.

    First, I visited Banana Republic in Manhattan.
    Banana Republic storefront.

    The store is located next to Rockefeller Center at 626 5th Avenue.

    The front of the store has a lush sitting area.
    Banana Republic’s store entrance.

    A giant coffee table displayed art books.

    The first mannequins I saw were styled in basic winter pieces.
    Styling on mannequins at the front of the store.

    The styling here wasn’t super impressive, but definitely spoke to a quiet-luxury approach that spotlights staple pieces and luxury fabrics like wool and shearling.

    Each section of the store centered around a different theme, color palette, or collection.
    The women’s section at Banana Republic.

    The store was spacious. I didn’t see many customers in the store.

    Each table was styled with a combination of clothing and accessories.
    A tablescape at Banana Republic.

    Artful centerpieces added dimension to the tables.

    I loved this leather skirt
    A leather skirt at Banana Republic

    The skirt is part of the Peter Do collection.

    Most of the clothing felt luxurious
    Sweaters folded at Banana Republic

    There was a mix of staples like crewneck sweaters, along with more statement pieces like shearling coats.

    This down puffer felt like a fluffy cloud.
    A white puffer jacket.

    The jacket felt high-quality and looked warm. And it was reasonably priced at $230.

    But this puffer didn’t make sense to me
    A red puffer coat.

    The satin puffer coat has an awkward shape with a very large collar. It felt off compared to the rest of the clothing around it.

    Holiday and evening pieces were toward the back of the store
    Velvet suiting was folded on a table.

    A black velvet suit set was laid out on a glass table, which made it a bit difficult to picture how it would fit.

    I was surprised to see some bohemian-inspired jewelry.
    Jewelry was displayed in cases and on top of books.

    The bohemian jewelry didn’t seem to fit with the more elegant pieces. But I found a pair of nice gold hoops.

    Upstairs, I was struck by this gorgeous shearling coat.
    A shearling coat.

    The coat felt so luxurious, and I loved the wine color.

    The second floor had more basics and sweaters.
    The second floor was also spacious.

    More art pieces continued to give the store a modern, worldly vibe.

    The fitting rooms were hidden, but I eventually found an employee who showed me to a room.
    A fitting room at Banana Republic

    First, I tried going into the fitting rooms on the second floor, but there weren’t any employees there so I went back down to the first floor.

    This cashmere sweater was soft, but was too big.
    Trying on a cashmere sweater.

    Normally I’m a small, but it seemed Banana Republic’s clothing ran a bit big. I would go down to an extra-small in this sweater. (The pants were my own.)

    I liked this knit polo, but the fabric felt a little cheap.
    Trying on a knit polo.

    This top was an extra-small and it fit me well. It’s made from a wool-blend fiber, but it felt paper thin, and I could imagine it getting holes quickly. So, I wouldn’t pay $70 for it.

    I really liked this sleeveless knit top.
    Trying on a knit top.

    This was a nice top that I could wear to work. I also tried a pair of wide-leg leather pants. They were cool, but way too big on me.

    Overall, Banana Republic has potential, but it’s not quite there yet.
    Another display at Banana Republic.

    If Banana Republic wants to tap into the quiet-luxury market, they’ll need to start by improving the quality of their basics. There were also some strange style choices that they’ll have to refine.

    The pieces that stood out to me most were more luxury-leaning, like the $2,500 shearling coat and a $380 bucket purse.

    I would consider buying a couple timeless staples at Banana Republic or investing in a single splurge item like a coat or handbag, but the brand wouldn’t be the first on my list for a closet refresh.

    Next, I took the train downtown to visit J. Crew.
    The exterior of the J. Crew store.

    This store is located near Union Square at 91 Fifth Avenue.

    Right away, the outfits displayed in the windows caught my eye.
    The window displays at J. Crew.

    The styling was fun and festive for the holidays.

    When I walked into the store, pops of color lifted my mood.
    The front of the J. Crew store.

    The store felt playful and bright.

    At the front of the store was a section of holiday-themed clothing.
    Mannequins at J. Crew.

    There was lots of bright red, Fair Isle sweaters, and silver.

    It didn’t take long to find some sequins.
    A sequined vest.

    Sequins were throughout the store — on sweaters, dresses, and tops.

    The store was pretty busy
    Customers shop inside a J. Crew store.

    There were at least a dozen customers on the ground floor.

    This jacket stopped me dead in my tracks.
    A metallic leather jacket.

    I was not expecting to find this metallic leather jacket. The shearling and cropped style was perfect.

    The store was broken into sections based on color
    The pink section.

    The pops of color made the store visually interesting and exciting.

    I noticed that the store chose color and texture over too many patterns.
    The blue section.

    Something felt stripped down about the store compared to previous years. There weren’t a lot of patterns, other than the occasional stripes, Fair Isle, and some holiday plaid. Instead, the clothing really leaned into pops of color and lush textures like cashmere and wool.

    And of course, it wouldn’t be J. Crew without some strategically placed feathers.
    A wool coat and an oxford with feather cuffs.

    Feathers have been a trendy adornment lately. It’s not always done tactfully, but this crisp button-down felt like an approachable way to try the trend.

    A small sitting area punctuated the center of the store.
    A spot for customers to sit.

    The store selected modern, minimalist furniture.

    A lot of the jewelry incorporated pearls.
    Jewelry on display in J. Crew.

    The jewelry was much preppier than the jewelry at Banana Republic.

    I was unsure about the corduroy pants.
    Stacks of corduroy pants.

    The pants were a slim-straight fit. I thought they’d look cooler if they were a trendier wide-leg or even a fun, retro flare. But I grabbed a pair to give them a shot.

    The styling throughout the store was fun and gave me a lot of outfit ideas.
    Several mannequins styled in winter clothing.

    I really liked the merchandising throughout the store. Some unexpected pieces were paired together, but it looked cool.

    An employee showed me to a fitting room.
    Inside a fitting room.

    The fitting room had plenty of room to hang my clothes and the lighting was adequate.

    I didn’t like the corduroy pants after all.
    Trying on corduroy pants.

    The brown sweater was a nice staple, though I wasn’t feeling the color on me. The corduroy pants were a miss. The color was too mustard and I didn’t like the slim fit.

    But I loved this grey sweater and leather pant combo.
    Trying on a grey sweater and leather pants.

    I’ve been looking for a new pair of leather pants, so I picked out a couple of pairs. Before I went to the fitting rooms, a customer told me she had both pairs and loves them.

    I also liked these leather pants. I threw in a feather-cuff shirt for fun.
    Trying on a striped shirt with feather cuffs.

    I couldn’t decide which pair of pants I liked best. They fit slightly differently, but both felt comfortable and were flattering.

    I tried a shirt with removable feather cuffs for fun — stripes aren’t really my thing, but I actually didn’t hate it.

    Overall, J. Crew came out on top.
    A mannequin in a knit jacket.

    I had the most fun shopping at J. Crew and could have spent a lot more time there. The store had a wide range of styles and colors, but not so much that it overwhelmed me as it does in H&M or Forever 21. Every section had something that caught my eye, and there were multiple pieces I noted to come back for or look up online.

    While J. Crew has kept much of its classic prep, the clothing didn’t feel too traditionally preppy for me. The brand has managed to hold on to parts of its identity that make it J. Crew — like sequins, feathers, and bright colors. These styles came off as revamped and modern when paired with leather skirts, cropped jackets, and cashmere sweaters.

    Finally, the clothes are approachable. The styles are paired down from what you might see on the runway, but still feel trendy. And prices skew slightly less expensive than Banana Republic for comparable quality.

    Before this visit, J. Crew seemed outdated and it didn’t fit my personal style. Now, I would consider it a destination for several needs, whether it’s to get a few basics, find an outfit for an event, or overhaul my wardrobe.

    Read the original article on Business Insider


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