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J.C. Penney Signs Nanette Lepore Deal

Designer to launch exclusive line for retailer for 13-to-20-year-old girls, including a collegiate crowd as well as those embarking on careers.

J.C. Penney is teaming with designer Nanette Lepore to create “l’amour” junior shops featuring flirty dresses, silk screen T-shirts, sportswear and denim and a “sophisticated look” for younger customers.

The shops will launch in over 600 Penney stores nationwide beginning in the first quarter of 2013, as part of the planned Penney’s transformation reinventing all aspects of the business that touch consumers and drive to build up exclusives and fill voids in the merchandising.

Penney’s already has ongoing exclusives with Nicole Miller, Liz Claiborne, Bisou Bisou, Charlotte Ronson and the Olsen twins, though Nanette Lepore represents the first designer linkup announced by the new Penney’s regime led by Ron Johnson, chief executive, and Michael Francis, president.

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Unlike the type of one-off designer hookups typically seen at such competitors as Target and Macy’s, “This will not be a capsule collection,” Francis told WWD. “This is a meaningful, multi-year relationship.”

Francis said Penney’s is not investing in Lepore’s business though he didn’t exclude the possibility with other designers or brands. As reported, Penney’s purchased a stake in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia last month, and plans to sell a wide range of Martha Stewart-branded products starting in 2013. Lepore will continue to design her other collections to wholesale at other stores.

Seated beside Francis, Lepore said she’s just in the sketching stage for the l’amour collection, and therefore couldn’t yet give a descriptive rundown of the items. But she’s got a clear sense of the direction, saying the collection will be “very specific and flirty” and that for the launch at least, there will be prom looks, denim, sportswear, and shorter lengths, with lots of newness with a delivery a month and 10 to 12 new styles per delivery. L’amour will target 13-to-20-year-old girls including a collegiate crowd as well as those embarking on careers. “Teen girls have very sophisticated tastes,” added Liz Sweney, Penney’s executive vice president and senior general merchandise manager, who added that compared to the Olsenboye collection, created in collaboration with the Olsen twins, l’amour will have a more feminine look.

Francis assured that additional partnerships with designers are in the works, and that it’s possible a new one materializes soon and even gets product in Penney’s store prior to the l’amour launch, which is a year away. “This is the first of our new designer partnerships,” he told WWD. “We will bring in the right designers” as part of a more careful approach going forward, as he said, to “curate” the assortment.