By and  on February 12, 2009

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. may not be the edgiest retailer around, but the mass chain is putting on a cool air.

On Tuesday night at Espace on West 42nd Street in Manhattan, Penney’s threw a party for 700 suppliers, Wall Street analysts, consultants and media to meet its merchants and the five celebrities-designers who have created exclusive lines for the store. The spring fashions and related advertising campaign, which kicks off during the Academy Awards on Feb. 22, were unveiled at the event.

“Customers are looking for style, a sense of design and affordable prices. We are stepping up our style,” said Penney’s chairman and chief executive officer Myron Ullman 3rd.

Among the crowd was a seven-months-pregnant Kimora Lee Simmons, who creates the store’s Fabulosity line; Allen Schwartz, in a flashy pink champagne sport coat, who has created Allen B. for Penney’s; Charlotte Ronson for her I [Heart] Ronson line; Michele Bohbot, designer of Bisou Bisou for Penney’s, and Nicole Miller, of the chain’s nicole brand. Also there were Nicole Miller president Bud Konheim, and Jeffry Aronsson, who arranged the deal between Charlotte Ronson and Penney’s. “It’s young, flirty and cool — like Charlotte — and really priced well,” Aronsson said. “This is a big deal — 700 doors.” The $19 billion Penney’s operates close to 1,100 doors.

By creating this stable of designer exclusives, Penney’s is targeting young and girlish customers with an eye for trends. There was Simmons’ bedazzled denim, Ronson’s grunge via floral rompers and patent Doc Marten-esque boots, and lots of boho — maybe a little too much — in tie-dye and floral maxi dresses from Schwartz and Bohbot. Of all the collections, Nicole Miller’s, which was full of her signature graphic prints done on dresses and tunics, appeals to a slightly older crowd.

Much of the merchandise is already on the selling floor, including I [Heart] Ronson. “All five lines have started to check out,” said Ken Hicks, Penney’s president and chief merchandising officer — particularly shorts; prints, either on tops or dresses, maxi dresses; bright colors, and white bottoms.

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