NEW YORK — Nearly 50 years after it first started turning up on polo shirts worn by country club golfers, the Original Penguin is readying for a comeback.
This time there will be a healthy dose of fashion when its women’s collection debuts this spring. Energized by the success of the relaunch of the Original Penguin by Munsingwear men’s sportswear, Perry Ellis International aims to do the same with women’s for the Original Penguin label.
Images of the cold weather, flightless bird are stamped on cigarette pants, diamond check bikinis, sleeveless striped turtlenecks, trenchcoats and sneakers. That’s quite a stretch from its early days, when Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Arnold Palmer and Richard Nixon were the unofficial poster boys of the brand.
Chris Kolbe left Urban Outfitters last year to join Original Penguin by Munsingwear as brand manager. Plans for a women’s collection were put into motion, after several men’s wear buyers suggested the brand get into women’s, he said. The company aims to have 300 to 500 doors carrying the brand within the next three to five years.
The fashion-conscious, 25-piece spring collection is designed for the twentysomething crowd that wants classic American sports styling with a fashion edge, Kolbe said. Even the brand’s signature polo shirt, which was a favorite in suburbia through the Seventies, has been retouched with a slimmer fit.
In February, the women’s collection will bow at select stores, including Urban Outfitters, Bloomingdale’s, Intermix and Selfridge’s, as well as at the new Original Penguin store here. The 2,000-square-foot store at 1071 Avenue of the Americas across from Bryant Park is set to open its doors next month.
“It’s for someone who is looking for a cleaner sensibility and a lot of color,” Kolbe said. “It’s a little tongue-and-cheek, but definitely not junior.”
With wholesale prices ranging from $18 for a polo shirt to $85 for a trench, the brand expects to compete with Puma, Adidas, Diesel, Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, Lacoste and Abercrombie & Fitch, Kolbe said. Penguin will extend its offerings next fall, with more outerwear, bottoms and sweaters, Kolbe said.“Most of our research was done with women’s wear buyers who were already buying our men’s wear,” he said. “They said there was an opportunity in the market for something clever and classic that was not bohemian or super thrifty.”
While print advertising will run in select magazines in February, Original Penguin plans to focus more on product placement and editorial play rather than “outright advertising,” Kolbe said.
Sari Sloane, buyer for Intermix, said she liked the line’s “preppy but young, fun feeling.” The brand’s little-boy style polo shirts are “a cute and funky way of wearing a classic,” she said. Other tops that skim the waistline are also expected to be popular with women in their 20s shopping at Intermix, Sloane said.
“It’s for a fashion girl to wear with distressed jeans,” she said.
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