View Slideshow

Large sizes are again in the limelight, this time at J.C. Penney Co.

Penney’s will roll out its private plus-size brand called Boutique+ to 500 of its 1,000-plus stores and on beginning May 1.

Penney’s will further pump up large sizes by launching in-store shops May 1 called “The Boutique” in over 200 stores. The Boutique will give the full-figured customer “an elevated environment for shopping classic and modern fashion” from private brands including a.n.a, Worthington and Boutique+, as well as Liz Claiborne and Bisou Bisou, which are exclusively sold at Penney’s.

Ashley Nell Tipton, season 14 winner of “Project Runway,” will serve as brand ambassador to Boutique+ and design two capsule collections, for fall and holiday 2016. Tipton was the first designer to present a plus-size collection during the “Project Runway” finale. The capsule collection will be labeled “Ashley Nell Tipton for Boutique+.” Penney’s said it’s the first time that her designs will be sold at a national retailer.

Said Tipton: “I look forward to infusing my signature style that is known for distinct designs in bright hues and bold patterns that appeal to young fashionistas looking for clothes that make them feel as good as they look.”

Boutique+ is geared for “the fashion-minded Millennial shopper,” Penney’s said. The line was introduced on a limited basis last fall and is created by Penney’s in-house design, trend and product experts. “There are millions of incredibly stylish full-figured women who are seeking comfortable, well-fit clothes that offer style and versatility,” said Siiri Dougherty, senior vice president of women’s apparel at Penney’s.

Boutique+ for spring will be offering Seventies styles such as femme tops, dresses in floral and paisley prints, vintage denim, fringe tanks, tiered blouses and pleated skirts will be featured. Prices range from $12.99 for a top to $39.99 for a jacket.

The Boutique+ shops-in-shops will be from 980- to 2,800-square-feet in size; sell casual sportswear, denim, activewear, handbags, fashion jewelry and accessories, and have their own fixtures, graphics, accent walls and plus-size mannequins setting them apart from the rest of the store.

“Lane Bryant used be the only mainstay for large sizes. Now the category has become a major development in the U.S.,” said retail analyst Walter Loeb. “Penney’s has a lot of customers who are large sizes. This can be fruitful.” Wal-Mart, Loeb noted, could also improve its large size offering. “It has not been a major effort for them.”

Target launched its Ava & Viv large size brand for women last February, while Lord & Taylor is on the bandwagon, increasing large sizes and working with more designers and brands to elevate the assortment than previously.

The Lane Bryant and Dressbarn divisions of the Ascena Retail Group are also elevating their large sizes via collaborations with well-known designers such as Isabel Toledo and orchestrating fashion shows and higher-profile advertising.

Eloquii, the direct-to-consumer plus-size brand, last week said it obtained a $15 million Series B round of financing to fuel growth, on top of the $6 million in Series A financing raised in November 2014.

In March, Ashley Graham, the plus-size model, launched her first ready-to-wear collection, called Beyond by Ashley Graham, for the Dressbar shops inside Dressbarn. The month before, Graham appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. She’s also featured in Lane Bryant’s current campaign “This Body.”

To large-sized women, “Brands and retailers have started to respond in kind, but there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done,” Mariah Chase, chief executive officer of Eloquii, told WWD last week. “Creative expression should not be delineated by size.”