Marilyn At JCPenney? Talk About a Misfit

Photo by Bo Zhong on

There’s synergy…and then there’s just a misfit.

With the news this past week that JCPenney was introducing a limited capsule collection under the Marilyn Monroe label, it marked the latest brand owned by Authentic Brand Group to hit the retailer’s shelves.

And while previous rollouts of collections under ABG’s Forever 21 and Sports Illustrated names might have made sense given the synergy with Penney’s customer base, the Marilyn Monroe brand is just a head-scratcher.

Although not an equity partner with real estate behemoths Simon Properties and Brookfield – as was at one time a possibility–  ABG seem to have become the brand consigliore for JCPenney under its new ownership, providing a closet full of names for the retailer to pick from.

That is, if that is the way it works. One has to wonder with the Marilyn program whether this was pushed upon the Penney merchandising team which on the whole has made some smart decisions on rebuilding the merchandising mix since the retailer emerged from bankruptcy 18 months ago.

But Marilyn? ABG took control of the brand in 2011 and unless you remember something better than me, it has not been able to successfully use this brand in the apparel space since. With all due respect to Miss Monroe, she died 60 years ago and the vast majority of the American population was not alive during the height of her prime stardom.

Then there’s the clothing itself. The Penney website features 29 different items in both regular and plus sizes…the latter which should be a sure giveaway on the intended audience. There are midi-length dresses, denim jackets, sleeveless sweaters and even a pair of Keds sneakers in a floral print. Virtually none of it bares much of any resemblance to anything Monroe would have been associated with during her lifetime. This was a woman, it should be remembered, who wore a dress so form-fitting and tight to President Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden that she needed to be sewed into it.

Penney, in announcing the limited-run collection said it was more about “Everyday Marilyn… essentials inspired by the off-screen Monroe — the humanitarian, artist and entrepreneur.”

“Inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s effortless style and fashion legacy, this exclusive capsule collection provides customers with clothing they’ll feel both comfortable and stylish in,” said Val Harris, JCPenney’s senior vice president of product design, trend and brand management.

And while Penney dutifully supplied a photograph of Monroe wearing a sundress that resembled one that was part of the Penney collection, some of the rest of program seemed like a stretch.

Lots of people – shoppers and those in the retail business alike – were happy to see Penney come out of bankruptcy and be saved by its new real estate owners. While progress has been slow in rebuilding the company there have been signs of life in the company’s merchandising strategy. Some may like it hot but Marilyn Monroe at JCPenney looks to be anything but.

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