We're not exactly sure if The Yale Club has hosted too many fashion shows before, but it definitely had to relax its strict dress code on Sunday when the fiercely traditional men's retailer J. Press took over the place to to show off its new premium York Street collection. The Fashion Week crowd is notoriously whimsical, especially over the weekend days, so while the part of the crowd made up of Japanese retailers and executives from J.Press' parent company, Onward Kashiyama would have no trouble passing muster at the exclusive alumni club, it was the editors, photographers and other various fashion folk in who sported shorts, jeans, the occasional tank top and, even a few pairs of flip-flops who would never have made it up the stairs in such a place on any other day. They don't even let you into the lounge at the Yale Club in a three-piece suit if you aren't wearing socks, but for longtime Yale retailer J. Press, the dress code was lifted for a few hours as the club's regulars restrained their disapproval.
The York Street label is named after the original J. Press store founded 110 years ago in New Haven, Connecticut, and 110 years after its founding, the most resolutely conservative men's store in America has decided that it is time to inject a little bit of fashion into its offerings —but just a little. To that end it has engaged Shimon and Ariel Ovadia of the burgeoning Ovadia & Sons label to give its offerings an update. Known for their own sense of traditionalism and respect for quality, the Ovadia twins trimmed down the store's signature sack suits and billowing button-down collared shirts (and they do billow). Is J. Press pulling a "Black Fleece" by hiring young designers to get attention and to burnish its image like it's larger rival Brooks Brothers a few blocks down madison Avenue? Uh, yeah, and don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise, but it's a perfectly good plan to follow. The Ovadia's updates on the J.Press style are also arguably much more accessible and commercial than Thom Browne's quirkier styles for Black Fleece. J. Press isn't going for a high fashion look, here, but for a more youthful take on its enduring tradition, and its Japanese parent company would clearly understand the commercial appeal of an authentic American tweaked for a younger customer —after all, the concept was practically invented in Japan.
Don't expect the York Street collection to be a one-off experiment either, like the short-lived and better left forgotten J. Press capsule line for Urban Outfitters from a couple of years ago. The company is wholesaling the label to other stores including trendsetters like Fred Segal in Santa Monica, and a freestanding J. Press York Street store is expected to appear in New York sometime next Spring to debut the line to customers. If J. Press is taking a page from its rival's playbook, then it's all the better for fans of the continuing menswear craze for updated heritage labels, and if it takes off, then The Yale Club might have to get used seeing more sockless crowds in its halls.