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Kmart Tries Trunk Show to Showcase Styles, Jaclyn Smith

Kmart keeps trying new ways to push itself as a fashion destination for budget conscious shoppers and brought actress and apparel design partner Jaclyn Smith to promote her brand to "frugalistas," as she called them, at the retailer's first-ever trunk show event.

Smith appeared yesterday at a Kmart just outside New York's Penn Station touting her namesake line and signing autographs just as rush hour began and the commuter crowd flooded the store. Yet she was the last to appear in a schedule that began at noon with Jen Groover, founder of the Butler Bag Co., who offered tips to help busy women save time, and continued with Julie Mensch, fashion merchandising manager for Glamour magazine, who conducted a summer fashion trend presentation at 2 p.m.

Amy Dimond, a spokesperson for Kmart parent Sears Holding, pointed out that fashion events like trunk shows usually are held in department stores. Kmart wanted to try one for the budget shopper to see what excitement it could generate. The crowd seemed to enjoy Smith's presence and a brief fashion show that offered models dressed in her clothes accompanied by a narrative about how they had been designed to mix and match in an updated classic style that combined traditional elements with modern adaptations.

Kmart also emptied its New York design office into the store. Many members of the retailer's design staff, which numbers 200, Dimond noted, were on hand to discuss apparel choices with people shopping. Dimond noted that the idea of the trunk show was generated in part by the design staff habit of dropping by Kmart's New York stores to see people react to the items they helped develop. Ultimately, the trunk show is a test, and Kmart will look at the results to determine if it can stage similar fashion events elsewhere. Dimond said the positive shopper reaction to the Penn Station store trunk show certainly encouraged Kmart to consider additional events.

Martha Stewart, whose products are entering their last season at Kmart, was the doyen of mix and match in housewares, and mass-market retailers from Kmart to Kohl's have embraced that approach to product presentations in apparel as well as home. With Martha going and Wal-Mart having stepped back from fashion after a couple of initiatives disappointed, Kmart is emphasizing its private label and proprietary brands and reviving Jaclyn Smith, a personality and label that got a lot of recognition in the 1990s but the retailer let slip at the turn of the millennia while emphasizing home and Martha.

Not that Kmart has given up on its home business, either. Also in New York, Kmart is sponsoring a major interior design community charity event tonight, Design on a Dime, where it will introduce its new Country Living home furnishings collection, a line developed to pair with a Jaclyn Smith extension into the home space and anchor the retailer's post-Martha presentation. So, while it may trail Wal-Mart and Target in sales registered and attention paid, Kmart is beating its own drum hard and the timing, in the midst of a recession that has folks contemplating low-cost alternatives to their former shopping preferences, should afford it some additional consumer consideration.

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