Byline: Rusty Williamson

DALLAS — Already a star performer this year, J.C. Penney’s innerwear business seemed to take on greater luster this month when it landed Calvin Klein Underwear from the Warnaco Group.
While scoring such high-profile national brands remains a top priority for the beleaguered chain, playing up in-house brands, including its ultrahot Delicates innerwear label, remains the chosen path to consumers’ pocketbooks.
Although the Calvin Klein Underwear launch in 400 Penney department stores in early January will certainly get its share of attention, it’ll have to share the spotlight with a number of other ploys aimed at continuing the innerwear momentum.
Bolstered by the Calvin coup, Penney’s also continues to woo national labels with a renewed zeal. In an interview on Friday, Penney executives revealed plans to go deeper with fashion trend-related styles within their Delicates lineup and also to launch premium niche fashion labels under the Delicates banner. Penney’s plans to roll out Delicates boutiques with signs to its top 600 stores starting next month.
Penney’s also is using its direct-mail catalogs as a springboard to offer innerwear in deeper assortments, extended sizes and unusual styles for the hard-to-fit. That business is ahead by midsingle digits. Innerwear also is sold on Penney’s e-commerce Web site. “Innerwear has been a bright spot all year with mid-single-digit gains,” said Ceil McDermott, divisional merchandise manager for accessories at Penney’s. “The business is strong across the board, including national brands and private label, and fashion is very important, especially the whole seamless trend as well as shapewear.”
Though Penney’s first rolled out Delicates in the early Nineties, it wasn’t until about a year ago that the brand’s focus shifted from basics to fashion.
“Fashion is now 35 to 40 percent of the Delicates business and it’ll continue to grow,” McDermott said. “It’s what customers are asking for. We’re playing up the fashion and value equation. Retail prices for Delicates are 10 to 20 percent less than national brands.”
Diva by Delicates, a sexy, colorful and fashion-forward niche private label launched about three months ago, is a big hit, said McDermott, even though retail prices are 10 to 15 percent higher than those of more basic Delicates offerings.
“The trend is certainly to do more niche labels under the Delicates banner,” she said. “We can make niche fashion presentations based on trends.”
As an example, she cited the Seamless Body Touches by Delicates brand that is a runaway bestseller this season, especially the bras and panties. Multiple-item sales are the norm at Penney’s innerwear departments, with at least one top and one bottom the typical sale.
“Shapewear is doing very well, including Olga’s Simply Perfect line, Bali’s full-figure offerings, Bodyslimmers and Smoothie,” McDermott noted.
The Body Briefer by Smoothie, at $49.50 and sold only in 100 Penney’s doors, is Penney’s most expensive innerwear item, followed by Bodyslimmers’ body slip at $43, which is more broadly distributed and sold at 375 stores. Other national brands sold at Penney’s are Jockey, Lily of France, Warner, Playtex and Vanity Fair.
Penney’s promotes innerwear on a continual basis and doesn’t follow an everyday-price scheme. Lots of business is generated by its semiannual lingerie sales and its popular Bra and Panty Spectaculars, which are staged twice a year.
Innerwear has been the focus of several ads in Penney’s new fashion advertising campaign, called “The Look. Look Who. J.C. Penney,” that made its debut earlier this year.
“We have had substantial growth and success in our intimate apparel and underwear categories with brands such as Olga, Warner’s, Bali, Jockey and Vanity, and we are pleased to be strengthening our brand offering,” noted Vanessa Castagna, executive vice president and chief operating officer of J.C. Penney stores, merchandising and catalog, when Penney’s confirmed that it would carry Calvin Klein Underwear.
“We are excited about the opportunity to bring Calvin Klein intimate apparel and underwear to J.C. Penney customers.”

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