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East Meets West

A few stores create such a devoted following that their openings in a new city cause a stir. Just this July, those waiting for East Coast shopping destination Madewell finally had their prayers answered with a 3,600-square-foot space at the Westfield San Francisco Centre near Fifth Street.

If you’re not familiar with Madewell, it’s the bohemian skipper to J.Crew’s preppy Barbie; colors are muted and clothing is less structured here. Founded as a work wear manufacturer in 1937 in Massachusetts, Madewell, and now a division of J.Crew, the company still maintains an inventory of clothing made of working-grade material, such as jeans and chambray. It also features a complete line of casual women’s apparel and accessories, from shoes to skirts to intimate wear.

Though still very much a mall store, Madewell customizes its stores to fit in with its native surroundings. To create a look unique to San Francisco, the visual team searched local flea markets and antique shops for furnishings and materials for the store display. There are blue metal garden chairs, tables, shelves and flooring made of recycled wood, and industrial lighting fixtures. The front window display includes a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. The store also carries items like sweaters in August—something you won’t likely find on the East Coast during sweltering summers.

Denim is still a focal point for Madewell. Jeans are displayed on a “denim bar” and buyers can select from choices such as vintage rocker ($110), legging ($95) and “skinny skinny” ($98). Jeans shorts ($59) are also available. Other trouser choices include rail straight cords in tan, gray or navy ($89). For a more custom fit, hemming is offered for $15.

More clothing choices from Madewell include a chambray button up shirt ($78), a short black and white polka dot dress in rayon ($158), faded pointelle 1937 socks ($12), slouchy soft scoop neck tees ($40), and “backwoods” tanks in lime, brown and navy ($29).

Accessories include the ubiquitous San Francisco summer scarves ($55), dangly “wishing well” earrings ($22) and African bracelets lined up like candy at the “bracelet bar” ($8). There are also a number of telegram wallets ($28-$35), pouches ($45-$52), and clutches ($52-$60), available in a variety of fabrics, colors, and patterns.

The store also features items from Madewell’s other labels, including an off-white and black polka dot mini skirt ($68), and linen shorts ($95), both from Broadway & Broome, and a red-striped top from Hi-Line ($58).

In addition to Madewell brands, there are a few other fashion lines represented in the store, such as Honeydew Intimates, which offers a bra and panty set in lime or periwinkle ($32). Faded blue jean tennis shoes from Bensimon ($45) are available, too. The store also features a number of items from shops based in the city in its “Hometown Heroes” section, including Rare Device, Candy Store Collective and The Curiosity Shop.

There’s been resurgence in demand for tailor-made goods that will last longer than your typical mall fashions. San Francisco has been on the forefront of this trend, and therefore it’s the right time for Madewell in San Francisco. Though the clothing is better made and less cookie-cutter than what you’ll find in most mall stores, it’s a bit pricey.

My only other complaint is that it’s the kind of place where no one wears name tags and staff doesn’t always ask you if you need help. It’s difficult to identify who actually works there if you need assistance. Though, that’s something easily correctable with the right staff training.