A Guide to the Best of Southern California : FASHION : J. Crew in the Flesh

IT'S NOT UNUSUAL to see customers at the new J. Crew store wandering around, touching all the merchandise. Shopping here is a more tactile experience than usual, because this is the first Southern California retail outlet for J. Crew, which for years has offered its men's and women's sportswear basics and dressy separates only through catalogues.

Available for hands-on examination are J. Crew's endless variations on unisex wardrobe essentials: cotton polo shirts, T-shirts, rugby shirts, turtlenecks and sweaters (from about $12 to $50). The store also features men's sportcoats (about $175) and women's wool pleated pants, silk blouses and tailored rayon jackets ($70 and up). And underwear, shoes, pajamas, belts, swimsuits, hats, ties and handbags are offered.

Although not all catalogue merchandise is stocked in the store, the shop does have some exclusive items not found in the catalogue. The minimalistic design of the store itself is an oasis of calm in the frantic fever of the mall.

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