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Kmart Hopes Jaclyn Smith Will Kick Martha Stewart's Posterity

Kmart is shifting into high gear on fashion, fighting for customers who might not have considered its apparel selection before now.

Kmart's latest lookbook, which details apparel introductions set to hit stores for fall, demonstrates that the company still regards "classic" as critical to selling its style to consumers, as June Beckstead, VP of design for parent company Sears Holding (SHLD) related to BNET, but it also sees "sophisticated" as part of a larger opportunity to build its fashion business.

Jaclyn Smith is the front woman for Kmart' fashion press, and an important figure, having been a brand to rival Martha Stewart in the 1980s and lately reemphasized by Kmart. And she's leading a shift toward apparel in retailer's presentation of style as Stewart retreats from the Kmart scene. The retailer may have launched a Jaclyn Smith brand in home furnishings, but it recognizes that her strong suit is apparel.

Right now, Kmart has an opportunity. Fashion has become a little more concerned with classic looks and letting consumers pick and chose elements they can build according for their personal sense of style, as well as their personal tolerance for expenditure. In a weak economy, fashion has become a little less haute-y,

So the fashion consumer is moving in Kmart's direction. The retailer cleaves to a classic styles, a mix and match assortment and low prices to satisfy a core shopper who doesn't take big chances with money by purchasing elaborate outfits or edgy looks likely to be out in a season. But, lately, Kmart has become a little more daring in design. The retailer is extending part of its apparel assortment toward current, classically influenced contemporary looks for core customers who might respond to newer styles that have become more consistent with their own sensibilities. But it is also targeting new, bargain hungry customers who still want to keep their style as up-to-date as cash concerns permit.

Kmart emphasized three brands in its lookbook, including the more contemporary Attention private label. Beckstead said Kmart styles the Attention brand for a customer who is up-to-date on current trends and favors a modern look. So the brand features "a range of casual, career and dressy apparel" and accessories.

"The brand allows the contemporary customer to mix different fashion elements into her own unique style," Beskstead said

Attention has evolved to provide Kmart shoppers "a complete wardrobe with an emphasis on a sleek silhouette," she said. "Superior quality, fit and a sophisticated edge are the hallmarks."

A denim-rooted brand, Route 66 has always had a vintage orientation -â€" as suggested by its name â€"- and vintage is hip again. Just ask Gap (GPS), which is pushing '60s-style jeans.

"The Route 66 customer is confident and adventurous, willing to mix something current with a well-loved item from her wardrobe," Beckstead said. She noted that, although denim is the brand's core, Route 66 also offers tees, knit tops, shirts sweaters, skirts, dresses and jackets as well as a range of shoes, accessories and jewelry that encourages customers to assemble their own looks.
Still, as the face of Kmart fashion, the Jaclyn Smith brand is key. It continues to emphasize "classic feminine styling, quality fabrics and ease of fit," Beckstead said.

Jaclyn Smith isn't delivering the look and feel of what's on the rack at Saks (SKS), but that's not the point, As Beckstead asserted that "over 100 million women have purchased clothing or accessories bearing her iconic name. Jaclyn's goal continues to be to make women feel great about themselves at an affordable price."

And that is the point. Fashionistas may pour their last cent into whatever tumbles off the runway. Kmart shoppers, though, feel good putting on something that reflects style trends as filter filter through their priorities of family and work. Given that more people are feeling possessive of a buck these days, writing off the prospects for Kmart's fashion efforts would be a mistake. Just a couple of decades ago, most consumers purchased their home furnishings at department stores and specialty stores. Martha Stewart helped to change all that -- so much so that a department store, Macy's (M), recruited her from Kmart to give it a boost.

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