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A sassy kid sister's coming out

September 02, 2006|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Fall hasn't even arrived, but the shopping scene is already heating up with a flurry of new openings. Lisa Kline has a pumped-up new men's store on Robertson. On Melrose Avenue, Duncan Quinn is selling his rock 'n' roll suits, while Original Penguin and Paul Frank are slated to open next month, along with House of Petro Zillia, down on 3rd Street. Carolina Herrera is coming to Melrose Place, along with Chloe.

And in Century City, J. Crew has a new, edgier little sister. The preppy retailer is launching a funky casual brand for women called Madewell with its first West Coast store opening Monday at the Westfield Century City shopping center. The clothes have more of a downtown attitude than those from J. Crew, and they're cheaper too, with the average price hovering around $50 and a buttery, navy blue leather bomber jacket in the perfect shrunken shape for just $268. Think skinny jeans, broken-in chinos, utility jackets, T-shirts and twill blazers in interesting washes, and suede boots, all on par with what one might find at Abercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle Outfitters, and all logo-free.

Madewell also features some exciting collaborations with Brazil's Havaianas for flip-flops, France's Spring Court for Converse-like tennis shoes and New York-based Philip Crangi, known for his medieval-meets-Victorian jewelry.

Millard Drexler, the man who made Gap and Old Navy retail giants before joining J. Crew in 2003 as chairman and chief executive, developed the concept. And it began as it often does -- with a name.

Madewell was a 1937 work wear company based in New Bedford, Mass. A friend brought the name to Drexler four years ago. "I immediately fell in love," he says. "It evoked a great image. And it's hard to find names for companies. I named Old Navy after a bar on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris."

Drexler negotiated to buy the name, which he leases to J. Crew for $1 a year.

For a national brand, it's oddly exclusive. L.A. is only the second location after a mid-August premiere in Dallas. Madewell isn't yet available online.

A canvas utility jacket ($96.50) is smartly nipped at the waist with elastic inserts. Chino shorts ($49.50) have a subtle herringbone pattern in the weave and cute rolled-up cuffs, and fall's chic beige herringbone menswear vest doesn't come off as cheap, even at $74.50.

The canvas shopper ($48) is a bit dull, as are the T-shirts. But white jeans have the quality of a premium denim without the price. Even at $78.50, they are substantial enough not to be see-through.

"I love the marketplace in L.A., but prices are high and a bit exclusionary and elitist," Drexler says. He hopes Madewell will appeal to the boutique shopper who also loves a good bargain.

The brand is trend-conscious, he says, but more inspired by "what's interesting about vintage, which is that the older something gets the more desirable it is."

"L.A. is exactly where Madewell belongs," Drexler says, "because the sensibility is the same.... Individuals bring style to clothes."

What else could a man want?

Kitson's Fraser Ross has expanded his retail empire on Robertson Boulevard to include men's and kids' stores, and now Lisa Kline is answering.

The longtime L.A. retailer, whose women's store first opened on Robertson in 1995, has revamped and reopened her men's store. And it's a beaut. Guys won't mind shopping with cocktails on offer at the in-store bar and a big-screen TV to watch. And, for the camera shy, there's a paparazzo screen that blocks out the store windows with a wall of trickling water at the press of a button. It's the first in a string of openings Kline has planned for the next year, with locations coming in Beverly Hills and Newport Beach.

The merchandise is pretty swell too, especially since Kline stocks plenty of sizes, including XL and XXLs "for real American guys who eat steak," Kline says, "and don't want to go to Rochester Big & Tall."

You'll find Greed pieced-together plaid blazers, Stone Island khakis, Modern Amusement sunglasses, Rogues Gallery rugby shirts, Goorin hats and Salvage polos, Chip & Pepper paint-splattered pants, Chrome Hearts bags, Theory sweaters and Crocs in manly army green and black. Kline even has her own T-shirts, with skull-and-crossbones logo, of course.

"Men are more into clothes now," says Kline, who first opened her men's store in 1999.

She's also carrying men's jewelry by Bill Wall, Soffer Ari and others. "There's something for everyone, even if you've never worn jewelry in your life. It's all about the evolution of the man."

A new way to support the troops

Not everyone feels a connection to the yellow ribbon. So John Betz, 32, a third-generation Marine living in Los Angeles, and his childhood friend, Patrick Gray, 32, who lives in New York, are hoping to rally people around their new line of fashion T-shirts, meant to be worn as a nonpolitical symbol of support for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

TakePride offers nine designs, each inspired by a U.S. service member. "One Land, Two Missions," inspired by Army medic Shawn Aiken of Minneapolis, is emblazoned with a medical cross, an outline of Iraq and the words "to fight" and "to heal," emphasizing the dual roles of a medic. "Iraq Imagined," inspired by Darren Hamilton, a Marine from San Diego, features a Humvee under a palm tree.

TakePride gives 20% of its profits to military-related charities. The shirts, $18 to $22, are available at


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