WhoWHATWhereWhy: J.C. Penney offers limited-edition capsule collections

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NEW YORK -- J.C. Penney has been tardy to the party when it comes to offering designer capsule collections. Meanwhile, other mainstream retailers such as Target and Macy's have attracted mega attention for collaborations with fashion elites such as Missoni, Karl Lagerfeld and Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa.

The company has been struggling since new CEO Ron Johnson, formerly of Apple, came on board and introduced ideas that have proven to be radical to the retail world. (A few examples: replace by 2014 bar codes with RFID tags so customers can swipe their own merchandise, create dozens of in-store boutiques connected by "streets" and ditch coupons and promotions for everyday-low price points.) Now JCP is playing catch-up with several pocketbook-friendly lines by big-name designers, including a junior's line from Nanette Lepore, a prom collection by Georgina Chapman of Marchesa and handbags from Lulu Guinness.

One of the most hyped is the limited-edition women's apparel, accessories and home wares collection from Nigerian-born London-based designer Duro Olowu. At New York Fashion Week earlier this month, guests got a sneak peek at the colorful print-heavy mix of spring trench coats, flirty dresses, chunky bangles, luggage, vases, picture frames and more. JCP gave him a lot of creative freedom and quality control, said Mr. Olowu, who has been approached before by other companies about similar projects. "So I thought, 'What a great idea!' "

For this collection, he channeled classic American silhouettes (trenches, sundresses and skirts, for instance) and effortless resort-style looks and applied some "international flair" in the form of bold leafy prints, florals and geometrics with a tribal feel.

"I'm very much a designer who believes that beauty is international," he said. "If something is going to fit someone who's a size 4, it should fit someone who's a size 12."

Versatility was important to Mr. Olowu, whose wife taught him the importance of investing in occasion attire. Per this advice, the collection features strong layering pieces and selections suitable for everything from a dinner date to a day at the beach. His favorite item? A leaf-print trench for $75.

"This is a piece that really defines what we're trying to do," he said. "The fabric is amazingly done. The buttons are enamel. It fits great."

No matter what piece women take home, Mr. Olowu hopes they feel the same thing -- "joy."

"I want people to feel good about themselves," he said. "Be you."

His clothes typically are synonymous with luxury stores such as Barneys NY and magazines such as Vogue. His main line starts at about $900, he said, and runs into the thousands. The JCP pieces will retail in 600 stores and online at www.jcpenney.com for $10 to $95, starting Friday.


Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.


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