JCPenney Gets Physical With Elle Macpherson's Undies

As part of its ongoing efforts to win back female fans, JCPenney is rolling out The Body by Elle Macpherson, an exclusive line of lingerie. What’s more, it says it’s beefing up the physical shopping experience for intimate apparel, adding certified bra-fit specialists, expanding its offerings from other national and private-label brands, and sharpening up its presentation.

The news is well timed, not just because it may help the battered retailer continue to claw its way out of its long slump, but because there’s evidence that after years of restraint, American women are really sick of what’s in their closet and dresser drawers. A new survey from NPD Group reports that after several years of being overshadowed by men’s plans to shop, more women than men say they plan to make new clothes a priority. And underwear is the third-most likely purchase, with 22% of those surveyed intending to buy, after tops (45%) and jeans (37%.)

“Women have gone longer than normal over the past two years without building their intimate wardrobe, and those that did buy were mostly replenishing the articles that have run their course and were worn out,” writes Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst, in his blog. “Now women are getting ready to get back in the game by buying additional items. I like to use the underwear and intimate categories as a measure for how well the apparel market will fare.”

By adding fit specialists, Penney also puts itself in closer competition with specialty retailers, including the tape-measure wearing sales armies of Victoria’s Secret, the industry leader. The company also recently resurrected Ambrielle, its own private label brand, with a greatly expanded number of styles. And, it says the variety of mannequins on display will now include a bigger variety of shapes and sizes, an emphasis that is now seen throughout its stores, TV spots and other marketing efforts.

Supermodel Macpherson, who earned the nickname “The Body” back in the 1980s, will be the face for the new line, which includes invisible t-shirt bras and a variety of matching panties, which the Plano, Tex.-based retailer describes as flirty, feminine and comfortable.

While Penney is still very much in turn-around mode, following years of sales declines and, more recently, the marketing debacle sparked by the hiring-then-firing of CEO Ron Johnson, its most recent quarterly results showed improvements. Same store sales rose 2% from the same quarter a year ago, marking its first positive quarterly sales result since early 2011.

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