By  on February 7, 2005

NEW YORK — In a bold move to round out its women’s apparel offerings and elevate its fashion image, J.C. Penney this month will roll out an exclusive collection designed by Nicole Miller, WWD has learned.

The collection, called nicole by Nicole Miller, will be revealed to the media on Feb. 15 at the Four Seasons Hotel here.

Penney’s few attempts at marketing exclusive designer collections have generally not had long-term success. For two decades, the department store has launched and discontinued collections under the Halston, Mary McFadden and Parallel labels.

But currently, the company sells Bisou Bisou contemporary sportswear and Chris Madden home products exclusively in its stores, and has over the past couple of years overhauled its private brand offerings for greater quality and value.

The company relies heavily on its in-house brands, among them, the well-known Worthington collection for career clothes, St. John’s Bay for casual sportswear and the denim-based Arizona brand.

The move to partner with the respected and enduring Nicole Miller — who showed Thursday during New York Fashion Week — could encourage other designers to broaden distribution strategies with Penney’s, as well. Often, the arrangements are highly lucrative for the designer, and provide cachet to the retailer.

Penney’s has continually been on the hunt for brands and designers, sometimes trying to lure those that have established relationships with department store operators, such as Federated Department Stores, Dillard’s and May Department Stores, with higher percentages of branded and designer offerings.

The Plano, Tex.-based Penney’s is the nation’s second-largest seller of women’s apparel, next to Wal-Mart, and has a leading market share in women’s careerwear, juniors’, outerwear and dresses.

The nicole by Nicole Miller collection already is being shipped to Penney’s stores around the country and is expected to be sold at 467 doors by Feb. 20. It will also be available on the Penney’s Web site and in its catalogue.

A Penney’s spokeswoman characterized the Nicole Miller collection as dressy-casual geared toward women seeking versatile clothes suitable for work or weekendwear. “It will be an interpretation of her classic American style, with signature feminine, flirty and fun touches and a lot of details,” she said.In addition, nicole by Nicole Miller is expected to be the centerpiece of a dressy-casual shop concept being developed inside Penney’s stores.

The collection includes city coats, jackets, skirts, pants, cropped pants, knit tops, sweaters and dresses. Prices will range from $26 for camisoles to $100 for a lightweight city coat.

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