The beleaguered department store chain is launching an exclusive lingerie collection in the U.S. with a partnership with Elle Macpherson, who along with Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and others became part of a new generation of supermodels in the 1980s.
The collection will be in 300 of Penney's 1,100 stores starting April 11. Penney says it will wait to see how the brand fares before deciding whether to roll it out to its other stores.
The collection, called The Body by Elle Macpherson, which refers to her nickname, offers bras and panties in mostly cotton. Its emphasis is on the smoothest, most precise fit that can be worn every day.
The collection builds on Macpherson's lingerie business that she founded in 1990 with the launch of an collection of lacy and silk lingerie that's sold at upscale stores here and abroad including Bloomingdale's and Harrod's.
The Body Bras top out at around $50, while bras in the Elle Macpherson Intimates Collection can go as high as $150. The bras have four distinct silhouettes designed to suit varying needs and body shapes: the push up, a sporty demi-cut version, an unlined alternative, and a subtle lift.
"I created this for myself, because I thought there was a gap," Macpherson told The Associated Press. "I really wanted to address this idea of shape."
Macpherson, who is creative director for a series of fashion business ventures, said Penney offers the opportunity to design for a wider audience.
The collection comes as Penney is trying to recover from a botched transformation spearheaded by its former CEO Ron Johnson, who was fired in April 2013 after 17 months on the job. That month, Mike Ullman, Johnson's predecessor, returned to the helm and has restored frequent sales events and basic merchandise to help reverse plunging sales and massive losses.
A key focus: revitalizing its lingerie business. The partnership with Macpherson was forged under Johnson's regime. But under the former Apple executive, Penney got rid of bra specialists and its store brand Ambrielle, a conservative line of lingerie. In February, Penney brought back the specialists and Ambrielle.
Also, more than 600 Penney stores will see their lingerie areas refreshed with new graphics and special fixtures.
Penney executives said Victoria's Secret benefited the most from Penney's woes when it came to lingerie sales.
"By offering the best brands, a greater level of service and an inspiring environment, J.C. Penney is making the necessary improvements to reclaim its market share," said Ivy Spargo, a senior vice-president for Penney.
Macpherson's collection will be at the high end of Penney's offerings. Bras are priced anywhere from $40 to $49, while panties will be priced at $12 to $14.
Spargo says Penney shoppers will be able to relate to Macpherson outside of being a celebrity.
"She's a working mom. She's a business owner," she said.
Macpherson, who is based in London but travels around the world, says she's "passionate" about lingerie. It began in 1990 with her partnership with Bendon Limited Apparel, the same manufacturer that is producing the line for Penney. It marked one of the first examples of a model becoming a fashion brand.
Macpherson said she created her original collection back then because she saw a void between European-style lingerie and the comfort that American brands offered.
"As a model, I was constantly getting undressed," Macpherson added. "I wanted to make sure I looked good."