J.C. Penney pairs up with Polo

A year after announcing it would partner with Polo Ralph Lauren in a private label deal, J.C. Penney unveiled the lifestyle brand, American Living. The new line marks the biggest product launch in the department store chain’s 105-year history.

J.C. Penney introduced the label, which will encompass 40 categories ranging from apparel and footwear to home decor and luggage, at nearly 600 of its stores last month. The general merchant also plans to sell the brand in catalogs and on online.

For many of its new stores, Penney is building separate American Living store-within-a-store concepts. It took the same approach with cosmetics merchant Sephora in a partnership that began two years ago.

What exactly is American Living? According to John Irvin, a vice president at large and president of J.C. Penney Direct, the name says it all. “It’s classic American styling that is rooted in the lifestyle of the American consumer,” he notes, “and the ideas that surround this brand are equal to our company’s core values.”

Though the line won’t mention Ralph Lauren’s name, consumers will likely recognize the designer’s hand in the goods — for instance, American Living signature preppy staples such as polo shirts, madras shorts and dresses, and floral-print linens.

Global Brand Concepts, a new division of Polo Ralph Lauren, owns the trademark for the brand and oversees the design, sourcing, and production. J.C. Penney owns the product and handles the inventory, marketing, and selling. The retailer expects the American Living brand to be a billion-dollar business in the next few years.

Based on the reception to the launch, Irvin says the company will decide how to expand the label. “We will look at customer information to see where we want to go next, but they will be logical extensions, like plus sizes, petites, and big and tall,” Irvin says.

Is J.C. Penney, whose holiday direct sales slipped 12.9%, trying to beat the current retail doldrums by going more upmarket? While Irvin admits that American Living is on the higher end of its pricing tier, he says the line is not aimed to pull in a more upscale consumer.

“We are trying to get new customers, but we’re also trying to resonate with existing ones, and some who have not done any business with us lately,” Irvin says.

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