What's in Store: 344

By Rachel Baker | Boston Magazine |

Local chain Jasmine Sola, fashion Valhalla for sorority girls of all ages, crumbled earlier this year under a cloud of scandal. In the new 344, founder Luciano Manganella is attempting a comeback, with seven stores already in place at press time and two more to come. But while Manganella miraculously hung on to the prime real estate of his beloved chainlet, duplicating its success as the premier shop for ponytailed coeds and their toned and tucked moms will prove much harder.

For one, Jasmine’s reputation—and demise—precedes 344. Haunted by the same layout and the same general vibe, shoppers will find it impossible not to compare the two. Young women armed with Daddy’s credit card used to swarm Jasmine for after-class spending sprees; however, on a recent Friday afternoon, the 344 store on Newbury Street was completely devoid of customers (though the salesgirls were as chirpy and helpful as the old Jasmine crop). Its selection of familiar brands of jeans, dresses, and going-out tops feels more sparse than its predecessor’s, the designs now more ordinary. The pastel palette is in some ways refreshing, yet when weighed against Jasmine Sola’s old neon backdrop, it seems almost a bit mournful.

Add to this the recent influx of wallet-friendly clothing chains like Zara and H&M, and it’s even harder for 344 to rate as a successful encore. In its heyday, Jasmine was cutting-edge in carrying brands like Ella Moss and Free People; its stock of designer jeans from labels like Seven and True Religion was unrivaled. By comparison, 344’s current model of approachable (but not cheap) and upscale (but not too grownup) feels ho-hum. This is not the place to go for deals, but it’s not the place to go for anything special, either.