Oscar Goes Casual: Penney’s and Kellwood Deals in the Works

Oscar de la Renta is getting ready to branch out into yet another facet of his widening fashion domain, this time in lower-priced sportswear.

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NEW YORK — An Oscar de la Renta denim and casual sportswear line is on the horizon — and it could be with J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Kellwood Co.

While the de la Renta name evokes luxury apparel — as evidenced by his spring collection shown Monday — the designer said a moderate-to-better-priced line is a natural progression for the brand and told WWD he is developing a denim and casual lifestyle collection that will likely launch at J.C. Penney stores. De la Renta also said he is in talks with Kellwood. to produce the line, which market sources said could be done through Kellwood’s ENC division.

Calls to Kellwood seeking comment were unreturned by press time, but Stephen Ruzow, president of Kellwood women’s wear, was reportedly spotted Monday at the de la Renta show.

Meanwhile, Vanessa Castagna, executive vice president of J.C. Penney and chairman and chief executive officer of stores, catalog and Internet, confirmed that the chain is talking with de la Renta.

“These are strictly conversations at this point,” she said. “We always look for opportunities that our customer would relate to and where we can integrate design into a moderate price point because we think the consumer does not have as many opportunities at the moderate price level.”

The potential deal makes Oscar de la Renta the latest designer brand with its sights set on a lower-priced market and will join Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Nicole Miller, looking for a bigger share of the $38.8 billion women’s sportswear market. Much of that figure comprises moderate- and better-priced sportswear, according to STS Market Research.

De la Renta stressed there was no signed deal with Penney’s or Kellwood, yet, and industry sources said they are not the only firms with which he is pursuing a partnership. De la Renta did, however, hire a new member for the design staff who has experience working in both the high and moderate ends of the apparel spectrum. Kibwe Chase-Marshall, who started last week, is a veteran of Michael Kors and most recently was with Isaac Mizrahi, where he worked on the Isaac Mizrahi for Target line.

“Everybody is doing lower-priced collections — Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan,” said de la Renta at a recent trunk show at Neiman Marcus in Dallas. “My collection is the most important thing and I don’t want to jeopardize it. But this [would be] for a completely different consumer.”
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