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IN REVIEW : J. Crew: Stacks of Classics

June 22, 1990|BETTY GOODWIN | Goodwin, a free-lance writer, regularly contributes to The Times fashion pages

With its catalogue photographs of pretty models wearing pre-washed twills and polo shirts, playing in the ocean or on boats, visiting an actual J. Crew store promises to be fun. Finding prep central--the catalogue company's sole Southern California retail store--isn't always fun.

South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa has become as big as LAX, but it doesn't have the roadside directories to guide you to the right parking area. You can drive around and around, but it won't get you closer to those rugged, weathered classics. If you haven't phoned for directions, you'll have to get out of the car and hunt, on foot, as if you were on a fashion safari. Two hints: park behind Nordstrom or Bullock's and take the escalator to level two. The store address is No. 2240.

Even with that information, it's still a long walk, with plenty of detours along the way. No one ever said shopping was easy. At last, there is actually a J. Crew store at the end of the search, minus the Madison Avenue models. One recent weekend, a shopper's mother accompanied her on the voyage. On arrival, she promptly found a seat in a nice cushy club chair and--honest--fell asleep.

The store is attractive and sophisticated. Indeed, it's so sleek that, if you squinted, you might think you were in the Armani shop on Rodeo Drive. Considering that the lime-, lake-, tangerine-, sage- and fog-colored basics stacked on wood shelves may cost as little as $12 (for a sleeveless T-shirt), shopping here seems the equivalent of eating pizza in a fancy Italian restaurant. Nothing wrong with that.

The selection is vast--60% of the catalogue's contents, according to a salesperson. Actually, there are so many shelves, so many colors, so much stuff, that it's a little bewildering. The shopper's mother reacted to it by wanting to go home, but the shopper prevailed, in search of a blue chambray shirt to get her through the summer.

Shopping live, in person, means being able to try on your size without having to mail it back if you get it wrong. That's a definite plus. But women's chambrays were sold out a month ago. The salesperson said it could be ordered through the catalogue, either by the shopper or by the store.



South Coast Plaza Costa Mesa

Rated on a scale of * to

**** (best).

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