JC Penney adds intimates from Elle Macpherson

Seems J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) hasn't totally abandoned the high-profile designer partnerships forged under former management — a new intimate collection from supermodel Elle Macpherson, a program formed under prior CEO Ron Johnson, will hit stores in coming days.

The Body by Elle Macpherson will be introduced at 300 of Penney's U.S. stores on April 11, according to The Associated Press. But unlike the massive rollouts of new brands under Johnson, this time the retailer plans to proceed more carefully, testing the program before a chain-wide roll out.

The collection is a lower-priced variation on the existing Elle Macpherson Intimates Collection, currently sold in department stores such as Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom. Prices for the Penney's line won't exceed $50 for a bra, while items in the original collection sell for as much as $150.

The addition to Penney's merchandise assortment comes as the retailer tries to recover from a debilitating 18 months during which Johnson dramatically changed the store's pricing structure and merchandise assortment. Johnson was replaced by his predecessor, Mike Ullman, as CEO and Ullman has been busy trying to restore the business and the brand.

In February, Penney posted its first quarterly profit in more than two years along with a gain in same-store sales. Many now consider the retailer to be well along its path to recovery.

"The most challenging parts of the turnaround are behind us," said Ullman. Those phases required the restoring and strengthening of relationships with suppliers, stabilizing the Penney brand and rebuilding the management structure. This next phase includes reviewing merchandising and marketing strategies to build gross margins and attract shoppers.

The home and apparel categories were among the first to be tweaked during this process as several high-profile partnerships implemented under the Johnson regime were terminated.

Gone are JCP Men's, Stafford Prep, JOE by Joseph Abboud, William Rast, Joe Fresh Kids and jcp Everyday. Management is also "right sizing brands such as Joe Fresh in women's apparel, Michael Graves Design, Conran and some other brands in home," said Ullman, during a conference call with analysts. "We made a conscious decision to discontinue these brands now to put past decisions behind us, so that we can focus on establishing a clear path to normal gross margin levels going forward."

Reviving the lingerie department is part of the new J.C. Penney. The partnership with Macpherson was initiated by Johnson, but he also did away with store brand Ambrielle and the brand specialists that staffed the department. Under Ullman, the specialists and brand have returned, and lingerie departments in more than 600 stores will get new graphics and fixtures.

For more:
-See this AP story 
-See this Forbes story

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