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Stores Turn to Magazines to Stoke Fashion Credibility

Friday, 4 Feb 2011 | 11:36 AM ET

For over a century, Americans have thumbed through the pages of fashion magazines for style tips and "dos and don’ts" on how to put together an on-trend outfit.

Now retailers such as JCPenney, Target and Walgreens are partnering with magazines like Glamour, PeopleStyleWatch and Modern Bride to leverage their fashion authority to help sell everything from tops to bridal gowns to lipstick.

Stores are showcasing fashion displays that call out outfits and items endorsed by the editors of magazines like Lucky and Elle, and are even collaborating on new initiatives—from a Modern Bride jewelry collection sold at J.C. Penney to a pop-up store in New York City forged from a partnership between Gap Body and Glamour.

J.C. Penney's People Style watch displays
Source: JC Penny
J.C. Penney's People Style watch displays

These partnerships are gaining traction as the power of a magazine’s ability to help a brand gain awareness has mushroomed, said Dana Tesley, chief executive officer of Telsey Advisory Group.

“The multi-channel aspect of magazines and their Web site presence is becoming more well known and is helping to build a loyal community,” she said.

JCPenney’s has partnered with People StyleWatch, a People magazine spin-off that focuses on the fashions celebrities are wearing. Throughout the year, People StyleWatch editors work with JCPenney’s trend and merchandising team to pluck items from the retailer’s assortment, and tag them "People StyleWatch Must-Haves", which means the magazine’s editors consider them a find.

The idea is to help customers by taking the guesswork out of finding celebrity-inspired fashion looks and trends at affordable prices, said Liz Sweeney, JCPenney's co-chief merchant.

“Since the launch of the program in September, items branded as ‘People StyleWatch Must-Haves’ have been huge sellers for us—with selected items often selling out,” she said.

Beginning this month, JCPenney customers also can take advantage of special in-store subscription offers for Time publications.

And it seems the magazine doesn't even have to still be publishing to lend an authoritative brand. Conde Nast and JCPenney are putting the Modern Bride brand on a jewelry line, which will be launched in time for Valentine's Day.

Although the magazine is defunct, the brand still resonates with 25- to 34-year-old women. Eventually, it will be expanded to other product categories that target this group in an attempt to boost JCPenney's share of the US bridal market and forge a connection with young brides that lasts way beyond their wedding day.

The Gap has also gotten in on the act. This fall, the specialty chain showcased mannequins decked out in outfits sanctioned by the editors of Lucky Magazine.

Then, last month, the retailer launched a temporary pop-up shop dubbed Body By Glamour. The store combined the Gap Body brand, a women’s activewear label, with Glamour Magazine and its Body by Glamour program, a free online plan that helps users get fit.

This trend is likely to continue, especially when you consider that some fashion editors are celebrities in their own right.

Target recently tapped Nina Garcia, the fashion director of Marie Claire and a judge on the popular fashion reality show "Project Runway", as its fashion expert.

Garcia, who is a former Elle editor, writes guest blogs for Target’s StyleBoutique, a Web feature that covers fashion, home and beauty. She not only shares news on Target’s exclusive collections, including Mossimo and Xhilaration, but also offers style direction and insider tips of the trade.

And retailers aren’t just seeking to cash in on a magazine’s editorial authority for their clothing collections. In yet another partnership with Glamour magazine, drug chain Walgreens is highlighting makeup, hair and skincare products that are the recipients of a Glammy, the magazine’s readers choice awards, such as Maybelline’s $8.99 Dream Matte Mousse foundation and Aveeno’s Positively Radiant, $16.99 daily moisturizer.

Lucky Magazine on HSN
Source: HSN
Lucky Magazine on HSN

“Retailers sometimes like to leverage the style-setting authority of fashion magazines as 'borrowed brand equity', particularly if they have less than full fashion authority of their own,” said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners.

If done right, these editorial partnerships can turn things around. Take HSN . Just a few years ago, the home shopping network was better known for elastic-waisted pants and cubic zirconium rings than stylish fashions. No longer.

HSN, which helped pioneer magazine-retail partnership, started running on-air segments featuring Elle’s editors imparting their fashion authority on the network’s designers and brands a few years ago.

The concept took hold, and these partnerships will only “accelerate,” Mindy Grossman, chief executive officer, who said the strategy helps tell a story and bring products to life.

This summer HSN exclusively rolled out the Glamour Jewelry Collection presented by the magazine's editors, and this fall, editors from Lucky magazine showcased items such as trendy leather satchels in on–air Lucky Shops.

The channel is now cooking up more on-air, digital and mobile special events with Lucky magazine.

Retailers are also getting more input from fashion publications before products ever reach store shelves.

For one, at Fashion Week this month in New York, Saks Fifth Avenue will sit with editors from magazines such as Vogue and Harper’sBazaar to consult on the trends they’re spotting “to help us determine our buying,” said Steve Sadove, chief executive officer of the upscale department store chain, who said such collaborations have gotten closer since the recession.

But not everyone thinks the editorial-retail partnership trend is a good thing.

David Wolfe, creative director for trend forecasting and retail consultancy the Doneger Group, tsk-tsked the idea, saying retailers are abdicating their own standing as an arbiter of fashion and trends.

“It’s disappointing,” he said. “It’s another cop-out.”

Retailers have already forfeited their authority to their suppliers, “now they’re selling out their own authority [to magazines],” Wolfe said. “Stores used to stand for something fashion-wise.”

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com

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