The day before I departed for Nashville in October, I learned Reese Witherspoon’s first Draper James store would be opening just in time for my visit. It quickly rose to the top of my list of tourist must-sees. It's an impressive concept; based on the e-commerce site, the store exceeded my expectations.
My first observation was how large the space was. It was cheerful, even without the cupcakes and sweet tea I read would be proffered. I also read the store was mean to be a community space, where people would be welcome to sit and linger. The brightness was inviting. And the music and noticeable scent created some semblance of a homey feel. But reading material, phone chargers, refreshments (even for purchase) and maybe a TV showing Southern collegiate football would create more of a lifestyle feel and demonstrate the color-coordinated couches aren’t just for admiring. I’m not suggesting Reese Witherspoon movies play (!), though I hope the brand leverages her celebrity by scheduling public appearances.
More than just the environment, and primarily why I said I was impressed, was the actual merchandise assortment. It had a clear point of view, filled a void in the market and stood alone – very well – from the Reese Witherspoon name. While navy was plentiful and large gold buttons abounded, I was relieved to see black apparel was for sale, despite reports to the contrary. Like Jessica Simpson before it, this was a brand that could sell on the merits of the product alone, and not just in the South. And unlike Jessica Simpson, I saw reduced risk of turnoff if potential customers aren’t Witherspoon fans since the label is "Draper James".
Having visited, I see why Draper James is successfully venture-backed. There’s a lifestyle concept here to be expanded. Stores could dot the south, as planned, but there’s also flagship potential in major cities. Americans will see the brand as charmingly Southern and international shoppers will appreciate its nationalism (a la Abercrombie and Jack Wills). In addition to being a solid vertical brand, I can envision curated product and content from complementary brands peppering the store or having its own section. In addition to obvious application in home and gifting categories, hero items from Tory Burch, Diane von Furstenberg and Lilly Pulitzer could all make sense.
The week before Christmas, I made a destination of Goop, the pop-up from Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand, in Manhattan's Time Warner Center. Compared with Draper James, a stiffer thread ran through this environment, which was more cohesive than the product assortment itself. The closed doors didn’t help create a feeling of warmth. This was one case where I prefer the weekly e-mail newsletter to the in-store experience.