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Penney’s French Kiss

NEW YORK — Designer Michele Bohbot of Bisou Bisou has attitude and that’s just fine for J.C. Penney.<br><br>"With my European taste very picky eye, Bisou Bisoubring femininity to J.C. Penney, and J.C. Penney will bring affordability to...

NEW YORK — Designer Michele Bohbot of Bisou Bisou has attitude and that’s just fine for J.C. Penney.

“With my European taste very picky eye, Bisou Bisoubring femininity to J.C. Penney, and J.C. Penney will bring affordability to Bisou Bisou,” she at the party to launch her exclusive collection for the chain.

About 300 suppliers, Wall Street analysts, consultants and dealmakers came to the Whitespace photo studio on Manhattan’s west side Jan. 23, to see how Bohbot interpreted Bisou Bisou for Penney’s, and to catch some the Penney’s fever. Led by Allen Questrom and Vanessa Castagna, Penney’s has a new culture, and is gathering momentum after good Christmas season. Following the Bisou Bisou pact — making Penney’s the sole distributor Bisou Bisou product in North America — other brands are seeking to sell the 1,000-unit chain. Penney’s plans to add least another contemporary label to its stable of private brands.

“Bisou Bisou is a door opener,” said Roseanne Cumella, senior vice president of merchandising at the Doneger Group, which provides buying and consulting services to Penney’s and other stores. “Penney’s has changed. They listen. They communicate. They’re out there trying to learn. They’re no longer insular and no longer look at competition laterally. They’re watching everythingfrom Saks to Wal-Mart.”

According to Questrom, chairman and chief executive of the Penney’s corporation, Bisou Bisou begins to fill a big void in the assortment. “J.C. Penney has always catered to $30,000 to $70,000 income families, the value customer, with great prices and great quality. Now we are adding fashion to that,” he said. Penney’s other brands, like Arizona, have new design teams and are being overhauled.

The Bisou Bisou collection is Penney’s most fashion forward, with flirty skirts, cropped cargo pants, sexy lacy tops, little dresses, bikinis and lots of detail like trim, ruching, ribbons and beads. It will be in 450 “major market” stores beginning in February, and displayed with Penney’s other proprietary contemporary label, Mixit, on specially created “pads” with new fixturing and bold signs, said Castagna, chairman and ceo of stores, catalog and Internet.

“There are really two reasons why we are doing this,” said Castagna. “First, to get customers who have been shopping our home store and children’s wear over into our apparel areas, which they may not be shopping. Second, we think Bisou Bisou will encourage new customers who haven’t been shopping J.C. Penney to come to our stores. It’s part of a strategy of updating and offering very good prices.”