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J.C. Penney is launching Black Label by Evan-Picone in another effort to woo back customers abandoned two years ago and plug a merchandise hole.

This story first appeared in the February 25, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Black Label by Evan-Picone will be exclusive to Penney’s through a licensing agreement with the Jones Apparel Group. The collection, including dresses and related separates — more than 100 styles — officially launches March 7, though some styles have begun trickling into stores. Prices range from $35 for a blouse to $120 for a jacket, and the line will be frequently promoted at 25 percent off.

“We really felt there was a big void in our assortment for a sophisticated, true career brand,” said Siiri Dougherty, senior vice president, general merchandise manager, women’s apparel at J.C. Penney Co. Inc.

Dougherty referred to Black Label by Evan-Picone as “system dressing,” meaning it offers mix-and-match options. “It’s very versatile,” Dougherty said, citing tie-neck blouses, sheath dresses, fit-and-flair dresses, pencil skirts, two-button classic jackets and trousers among the strong looks.

Penney’s previous management shifted the retailer’s merchandise focus to younger styles and away from certain traditional lines thereby alienating many Penney’s customers. Also, Joneswear, American Living and some peripheral brands were dropped. But since Myron “Mike” Ullman 3rd returned as chief executive officer last April, replacing Ron Johnson, much of what was tossed aside — including private labels, aggressive price promoting and coupons — have been reinstituted, and some departments such as the home floor are being recast to bring back more of Penney’s traditional middle-American appeal and prices. Black Label by Evan-Picone underscores that traditional appeal, as well as that women’s careerwear remains important to the Penney’s customer. Evan-Picone is a well-known label, sold at Macy’s, Belk, Carson’s and Amazon, among other retailers. Aside from getting customers to shop the store again, a Penney’s turnaround hinges on building revenues and margins to cover debt and capital costs, and generating stronger cash flow and confidence among vendors and investors.

After widespread changes to the selling floors, there’s no issue finding space for Black Label by Evan-Picone. Penney’s will go big with the new brand at the outset by launching it at 570 stores. The collection will be merchandised either adjacent to Worthington, an established private brand emphasizing modern, wear-to-work related separates, or by dresses on the career side of the floor. At Penney’s, the Liz Claiborne Collection is also focused on careerwear, while the separate Liz Claiborne line takes more of a lifestyle approach by offering casual and leisure wear and denim as well as some careerwear. Penney’s owns the Liz Claiborne name.

“We think Evan-Picone is a great name,” said Dougherty. It’s also an enduring name, founded by Joseph Picone and his partner Charles Evans in 1949.

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