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Fashion’s New Mass: Oscar, J.C. Penney Said in Talks

J.C. Penney and Oscar de la Renta are said to be in talks about bringing the designer’s cachet to the chain through the launch of a new label.

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In December, when Questrom and Castagna outlined their plan to bring exclusive lines into the stores, they indicated that one of their goals is to bring the store into the competitive world of fast-fashion, currently dominated by H&M and Zara, and is putting a particular focus on the contemporary category. At the time the deal was announced with Bisou Bisou, which pulled its merchandise from stores like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s to sole distribution at Penney’s, the store acknowledged it would be looking for other labels to modernize its other top in-house brands: St. John’s Bay, Stafford, Worthington, Delicates and J.C. Penney Home Collection.

The exclusive deal for True Beauty by Emme was announced in February and came with an option to renew its contract with the supplier, Kellwood Co., after a year. Kellwood is a major supplier to Penney’s, selling its Sag Harbor, Koret, Vintage Blue Bottoms and Energy labels to the chain, leading to some speculation that de la Renta’s project could be connected to the moderate apparel specialist. Kellwood also has produced bras and panties under the Oscar de la Renta name under license through its Biflex division since last year.

However, insiders insisted as far as the development of a new product was concerned, “There’s nothing concrete about it. We haven’t answered, ‘Who is the manufacturer? What is the distribution?’”

Some also questioned what would be the appeal of such a deal to the designer. Noting how quickly deals were struck with Bisou Bisou, which was in financial trouble, and with Emme, they said the uncertain and slow talks with de la Renta indicate the conclusion of such a designer-to-mass collaboration might just be as unlikely to ever happen.

On the other hand, the designer industry seems to have suddenly discovered gold in the mass and better zones. Marc Jacobs said he wants to go there and hopes to have a licensee for better-price sportswear lined up within a year, while Calvin Klein Inc. is expected to announce a women’s licensee for a new better concept within a month, following its acquisition by Phillips-Van Heusen in February. Kellwood also recently launched an Izod women’s collection, and Perry Ellis, a new introduction in the category, is gaining momentum with the addition of Patrick Robinson as its designer.
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