/ 23 January 2009

Website crashes as first family cuts a dash in DC

For a middle-market high street clothes chain, it was the dream celebrity endorsement. The retailer J Crew saw its share price soar and its website crash after the United States’s first family selected its affordable designs to wear on inauguration day.

Famous for its preppy clothes, J Crew’s 218 stores are a familiar sight in shopping malls across the US. They typically do a swift trade in everyday chinos, sweaters, skirts, jeans and blouses.

In a decision widely interpreted as an effort to avoid appearing elite, the Obamas’ children, Sasha and Malia, were bundled into J Crew coats to shield them from the cold during Tuesday’s festivities.

The first lady, Michelle Obama, turned up at a celebratory concert in a cashmere cardigan, gloves and skirt from J Crew, while her husband sported a J Crew white bow tie to tour inaugural balls on Tuesday evening.

As J Crew trumpeted its role as a White House outfitter, the chain’s website crashed under the weight of enquiries. The web page featuring womens’ gloves initially seized up, followed by the entire womenswear section of the site, then the website itself.

The company’s shares leapt by 10% during early trading on the New York Stock Exchange before being sucked downwards by a market-wide slump.

”It’s an instantaneous connection for our customers,” said Jenna Lyons, creative director of J Crew. ”They, in a small way, have a chance of having something similar to the first family.”

It was not the first time that Michelle Obama had conspicuously sported J Crew clothing. On the campaign trail, she boasted to the chatshow host Jay Leno that she had bought her ensemble from the high-street chain.

Her sartorial approach prompted comparisons with the relatively profligate ways of the Republican vice-presidential contender, Sarah Palin, who came under attack when it emerged that the Republican National Committee had spent $150 000 outfitting her family.

J Crew is run by a former Gap boss, Mickey Drexler. The firm said it had been asked two months ago by the Obama camp to submit sketches of possible designs for inaugural clothing. But shoppers hoping to pick up precisely the same outfits will be disappointed.

”We will not be producing exact replicas,” said Lyons. ”We want the Obamas to feel that their pieces are uniquely their own.” — guardian.co.uk