Tomato/Tomahto; Potato/Potahto . . . Let’s Call the Whole Thing RALPH!

. . . This past week, a group of apparel power vendors and I hit Penney’s to check out the just-landed Ralph-Lauren-created American Living brand launch . . . Any doubts that I harbored regarding Ralph’s (and Penney’s) ability to first, wedge yet another proprietary brand into Penney’s stores and second, to execute a multi-category lifestyle brand without leveraging any of the world-of-Ralph brand monikers (Ralph, Polo, Chaps, My Little Pony . . . oh wait, that’s something entirely different) quickly washed away as we beheld lifestyle-branding at its finest …


J.C. Penney’s latest mega-launch may be called American Living; however, one glance at the madras, gingham and seersucker juxtaposed within Penney’s sea-of-khaki men’s department (that’s right, men’s) leaves no mystery as to the creator, particularly since Ralph’s usual morphalicious translations in women’s, kids and home didn’t miss a beat.


American Living is unmistakably Ralph, down to the white wood display shelves, all-American flag-with-eagle brand ID (placed prominently, and prodigiously, throughout the collection), generous use of fabric and color, and strength-in-numbers displays of core essentials . . . okay, maybe a pink short sleeved polo shirt isn’t exactly a men’s essential in the middle of February at Penney’s . . . or, at $34.99 “on sale” (compare at the usual yikes price of $75.00 for the Polo version at your neighborhood better department store), perhaps it is.  That brings me to two areas of concern that the group and I all shared in an otherwise stellar program launch:


1.       Isn’t it a bit “Penney’s wise and pound foolish” for JCP to carry its usual pseudo markdown pricing shenanigans into this program right out of the starting gate?  Just about everything was marked down a minimum of 30% the week it all landed.  I’m feeling an early loss of credibility for a program that promised to build the top end at Penney’s . . . talk about “train ‘em to wait” strategy at its worst . . . maybe next week it’ll be at half price?  Wait and see!


2.       Penney’s program was out in full spring glory; pink, green, madras, seersucker, supplex.  Compelling enough to make me want to plan that golf vacation . . . and I don’t even golf.  Walking across the lifestyle center (where else would you buy lifestyle brands?), Dillard’s had a whole lotta real-Ralph out . . . all of it drastically-reduced FALL merchandise, nary a Bermuda short in sight.  Cowl neck sweater with those cords?  Surely Dillard’s and other struggling better-to-best retailers won’t take kindly to Ralph delivering such an intact beauty to Penney’s while they are sitting on coats in rounder strength! 


This one will be fascinating to watch . . .


Quick review:  Launched in 575 Penney’s stores, catalog and on,  American Living is the first major deal struck by Global Brand Concepts, an entity which Polo Ralph Lauren formed late last year to develop lifestyle brands as exclusives for department and specialty stores . . . while GBC will provide varying levels of design, production, marketing and advertising support (depending on the deal), one very important caveat for any and all brands, none of the GBC brands will have any references to Ralph Lauren.  (Interesting aside, Ralph Lauren just poached Gail Onorato from Liz Claiborne to be president of women’s wear for American Living and Chaps, Lauren’s exclusive brand for Kohl’s.)


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