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J.C. Penney to Launch Georgina Chapman Line

The department store wants some red-carpet appeal on its selling floors.

A prototype of the Pearl by Georgina Chapman of Marchesa at Penney's.

For J.C. Penney Co. Inc., advertising during the Academy Awards isn’t enough. The department store wants some red-carpet appeal on its selling floors.

This story first appeared in the February 21, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

On March 1, Penney’s will simultaneously open more than 500 boutiques selling special occasion gowns, prom and party dresses designed by Georgina Chapman. As the designer and founder of the Marchesa brand, Chapman is known for glamour and dressing red-carpet celebrities, as well as being married to movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Penney’s says Chapman is bringing her style to the masses but at affordable prices in an exclusive collection called Pearl by Georgina Chapman of Marchesa.

“I have really enjoyed this challenge,” Chapman told WWD, noting she’s never before tackled the mass market. “It’s amazing what Penney’s can achieve at a price point. There’s corsetry involved, beautiful laces, beautiful prints.”

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Asked how much Pearl reflects her work at Marchesa, Chapman replied, “It’s got a slightly different attitude, a younger attitude, but it all comes from me. It retains the same sensibility and design aesthetic. I wanted it be fun. So a young girl can put on a dress and imagine she’s about to have an incredible night out. I really wanted to reach a larger demographic and larger audience.”

“It’s definitely something different. It hasn’t been done,” added Siiri Dougherty, J.C. Penney Co. Inc.’s senior vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s apparel. “We have a pretty large dress business and a lot of social occasion, but not as special as this.”

The lion’s share of Pearl’s prices will between $70 and $100. Items start at $50 for a lace shell or a printed shell, and go as high as $250 for a long organza gown with ruffles and details. For the initial delivery, there will be 26 styles and an emphasis on prom gowns. As summer approaches, the look will shift to prints. About 15 new styles will be delivered monthly.

Dougherty said the collection is geared to any social or special occasion, from proms to holiday parties, garden parties, black-ties and summer weddings. “There’s a broad range of design, from beautiful long tulle dresses to lace shorts and matching lace jackets. It’s absolutely designer-inspired social-occasion dressing,” targeting an audience stretching from 17-year-olds to fortysomethings.

Pearl, which is the middle name of Chapman’s daughter, will be housed in 250- to 300-square-foot boutiques anchoring Penney’s dress departments. Chandeliers will add a touch of class. The square footage represents roughly 10 percent of the dress floor in many locations. Pearl is part of Penney’s strategy to reinvent its stores into 100 shops or boutiques. Joe Fresh shops will open in mid-March. Also coming this year are shops for Martha Stewart, Jonathan Adler, Michael Graves, Carter’s, Cosmopolitan intimate apparel and Giggle baby clothes, while Levi’s, Liz Claiborne, L’Amour Nanette Lepore and Izod are among the shops already open. In special occasion dresses, Penney’s offers such private brands as Bisou Bisou and Allen B., as well as market brands.

In April, Penney’s will support The Pearl Fund, a scholarship for Girls Inc. students founded by Chapman by inviting customers to donate some change to round up their purchases, anywhere in the store or online, to the nearest dollar. Penney’s supports a different cause each month in this manner.

Once again, Penney’s will run ads on the Academy Awards broadcast Sunday. Of the six spots, one will introduce Pearl by Georgina Chapman of Marchesa. Naturally, Chapman will attend the Oscars, since Weinstein’s “Silver Linings Playbook” has eight nominations. Asked what she’ll wear for the red carpet, Chapman noted she’s eight months pregnant. “I had to cut something special,” she said.