American Living could be one of the causalities of Ron Johnson’s reinvention of J.C. Penney Co. Inc.
This story first appeared in the December 23, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Penney’s is said to be reviewing the brand, which is produced by Ralph Lauren Corp. and was hailed in 2008 as the retailer’s biggest launch ever, covering women’s, men’s, kids, accessories and home.
A spokeswoman for Penney’s said: “We will share information about what we are doing as it is happening. We don’t comment on future merchandise plans.”
And a Lauren spokesman noted: “Ralph Lauren Corp. has a strong working relationship with J.C. Penney which continues today. Over the past few months, we have met several times with Ron Johnson and his team and are excited to hear his vision for J.C. Penney as he unveils his plans for the company in January.”
Johnson, who is best known for spearheading Apple Inc.’s innovative and highly successful retail effort and also helped make Target Corp. a powerhouse, plans to unveil his vision for Penney at a Jan. 25 analyst meeting in New York.
The chief executive officer and Penney have been mum on just how the retailer will evolve under his leadership, but dramatic change is in the offing. Already, Penney acquired a minority stake in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. and plans to start opening Martha Stewart shop-in-shops in February 2013. The chain also plans to adjust its pricing strategy.
“I’m not here to improve, I’m here to transform,” Johnson told employees at the company’s Plano, Tex., headquarters on his first day on the job last month.
Uncertainty surrounding the retailer’s changes has apparel vendors anxious. Many are said to be at least internally reducing their planned business with Penney next year.
The future of American Living is seen as uncertain at the least. Even if the business is shuttered, Lauren and Penney could continue their collaboration in some other form.
American Living was somewhat star-crossed from the start, running headlong into a deep recession and financial crisis. The brand was launched at the high-end of Penney’s price scale and bore some of Lauren’s classic preppy feel, but didn’t benefit from the halo of the Lauren brand.
Johnson’s predecessor, Myron E. “Mike” Ullman 3rd — who is currently Penney’s executive chairman and used to sit on Lauren’s board — said this summer that American Living was “a top-10 brand” in the store.
Even so, the brand has come under increasing competition from the roll out of Liz Claiborne apparel in Penney’s, a line that is said to be performing well and is now owned by the retailer.