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J. Crew continues Canadian expansion with opening of rare Collection store

The interior of the J.Crew Bloor Street Collection Store is pictured in a handout photo, released on Friday February 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Frank Oideman

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The interior of the J.Crew Bloor Street Collection Store is pictured in a handout photo, released on Friday February 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Frank Oideman

TORONTO - It's been nearly three years since J. Crew first brought its chic twist on classic style staples to Canada with the launch of its first international store in Toronto.

With its latest foray into the Canadian market, consumers north of the border will find themselves in rare company as the brand opens one of its select dedicated locations for fashions typically featured on the runway.

The American retailer has launched its first Collection store in Canada on Bloor Street in Toronto, joining two other locations in New York and a recently opened shop in London.

"They really are a place where we can have the full breadth of the Collection line that we show at Fashion Week all in one place," J. Crew president and executive creative director Jenna Lyons said in a phone interview from New York.

"That's because most of the pieces are limited edition, so we don't make as many items as we do for the rest of the main line," she added, noting that the items are often more embellished and more high-end in terms of fabrication.

The new 600-square-metre Toronto location will showcase the largest assortment of women's Collection pieces in Canada and a curated range of menswear. While Lyons said she "would love to open 100 Collection stores," the plan is to keep the specialty locations relatively small in number.

"It's not about being ubiquitous — it is about being a special experience," she said. "I think if there is a location that makes sense, we would certainly be open to it. We're still getting our feet wet in Canada as of right now."

While J. Crew merchandise became available to Canadian consumers in 1991 through the company's catalogue, the arrival of bricks-and-mortar locations in Canada two decades later was still met with much anticipation by fans of the brand, which counts Michelle Obama, wife of the U.S. president, and their daughters among its high-profile customers.

The love affair hit a rough patch early on as Canadian shoppers were faced with increased merchandise prices in stores and on its Canadian e-commerce site relative to those of U.S. locations. Taxes and duties also spiked the prices of online orders. J. Crew now offers duty-free shopping online and a flat rate of $9.95 on shipping to Canadian customers.

"That was definitely a learning (experience) for us," said Lyons. "It was the first time we were going out of the country, and I think it was ... an opportunity where social media and direct feedback from the customers was pretty incredible in terms of being able to respond.

"In addition, what's also nice is we've been able to see the positive response after having rectified the situation and really getting an understanding of what people felt more comfortable with," she added. "It's been tremendously helpful."

J. Crew recently unveiled its fresh looks for fall during New York Fashion Week. Lyons said the menswear offerings drew on the idea of longshoremen, with shearling collars, rope collars on coats and an infusion of deep ocean green and rich blue tones. Meanwhile, Lyons said the women's offerings hearkened back to '30s Berlin. The line featured bold, graphic prints and patterns and a palette steeped in deep hues like burgundy and navy.

In both the men's and women's pieces there was an "undertow" of athletic and sport-inspired items, which are influencing everyday wear, she noted.

"There's quite a few pants that look like they may have been at one point a sweatpant, but they were done in a beautiful heather grey flannel. There's also sweatshirts paired with sequins — that kind of element of being mixed together with the opposite elements that were iconic to the collection."

For those eager to tap into stylish, casual styles for spring, Lyons suggested adding pieces to the wardrobe that lend themselves to an "athletic vibe."

"It might be the idea of a cropped sweatshirt or a very voluminous and shaped sweatshirt, or a pair of trainers that you wear with a skirt," said Lyons. "I would say the same thing for the guys — that kind of idea of a more tailored, slimmer sweatpant, but then paired with a great blazer.

"Taking that stuff out of the gym, I think there's a way to incorporate it into your wardrobe in a way that feels cool and fresh."

Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.

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Online:

www.jcrew.com

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