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Is It Me? Or is JC Penney/Lauren's American Living God Awful

Posted by: David Kiley on February 19, 2008


J.C. Penney Co Inc. is undertaking the biggest merchandise launch in the department store’s 105-year history. The massive collection, developed by Polo Ralph Lauren Corp’s Global Brand Concepts exclusively for Penney, will include men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, shoes, handbags, bedding, towels, window treatments, luggage, furniture and swimwear.

Penney Chief Executive Myron “Mike” Ullman said American Living products could mark the largest single introduction of a brand in retail history.

I don’t think so. I have been perusing the American Living website. Some of the items I see look perfectly respectable—the dress shirts, ties, shorts, etc. I haven’t checked out the window treatments yet. But the thing that jumps out at me like a rat on the cheese shelf is the absolutely God-awful logo chosen for this line developed by Penney and presumably one of the top arbiters of fashion taste in the 20th century. This logo looks like the cheesy Bicentennial decal I put on a wooden serving tray made in shop class circa 1976.

Before the Hannity morons jump on me for being anti-American, let’s review: I am a frequent JC Penney shopper. I plan to give my IRS tax rebate to my church. I fly an American flag on the flagpole in my yard all year. I drink American whiskey—Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey. I vote. I recycle. I am a proud American. I do not, however, where a flag pin on my lapel. I do not wear American flag tee shirts. I do not use American flag beach towels. To me, the American flag is a sacred symbol that should be revered and displayed according to proper protocols. If someone defaces a flag, I would rather engage them in conversation about why, rather than pass a law preventing them from doing it again. But I digress.

My objection to this gawdy logo from JCP and RL has everything to do with simple taste. Lauren’s Polo player, which adorns a few of my shirts, is nicely understated if a bit yuppified. I wouldn’t be caught dead, however, buying or wearing one of these American Living logo-adorned shirts if they were on the $5.99 rack. I wish I could represent the especially hideous blue casual short with the huge, hideous logo that’s on the American Living homepage.

The dress shirts and the like I see on the website have the logo in the collar label, not the pocket. That was wise. But I dislike the logo enough to keep from buying the dress shirts too.

What exactly is it that JCP thinks it is tapping into here? yes, there is optimism in the air for a new President. But the rest of the world certainly is doing its best to make me feel bad about being an American when I travel abroad. Intramurally, we are trying to convince ourselves that a Recession can be averted as we drive by streets of vacant and foreclosed houses. A discreet Eagle for a logo would have sufficed. Even an artful Turkey, Benjamin Franlin’s choice for a national bird, would have been better and more unique.

Did JCP and RL actually focus group this design or the name?If so, i want to see the tapes to see how badly they were done.

The phrase “American Living” also hits me as being a name that Whirlpool might have created to describe almond colored refrigerators and dishwashers in 1975.

I’m just not getting this in case you couldn’t tell.

Reader Comments


February 20, 2008 8:31 AM

If radical rightists go on a rampage every time you say that American emblems are being used in an aesthetically displeasing way, that's their insecurity. Trying to verbally prove to everyone that you're an Avid American Patriot(TM) only does what they want to accomplish, a verbal joust about who's more American so they can gloss over whatever issue is actually being discussed and do what they do best. Rant and foam at the mouth.

As for the logo, yes, it's very poorly done. The whole American Living tag seems like another way for Ralph Lauren to define what's American style beyond that classic frump in department stores. It's a mix of tighter fitting European fashion (designed for small waistlines and more athletic body types), American denim and traditional colors. If he used his typical red and blue RL logo, it might've been a more attractive collection.

Randy Norman

February 20, 2008 2:18 PM

Yes, it is just you...and like minded folks that also share your opinion perhaps. I'm sure there is more of your type out there. You're patriotic...I get it. You don't like to wear the American Flag. Ok.

However, it's simply a patriotic symbol and a patriotic brand name. You happen to not like it and that's your business. That is an example of "American Living" as a matter a fact. It's your 1st Amendment right. So good for you.

Yes, the logo isn't on the dress shirts because people generally don't want logos on formal clothing. And the logo is on casual wear. I like the logo. The giant logo you choose to display is really for Young Men's clothing. Boys/Young Men are into that look. Look at Abercrombie or American Eagle if you would like. I'm guessing you have a problem with American Eagle clothing as well. My own personal opinion is that you just need to relax and drink some more of that Markers Mark and chill. Perhaps you could drink some whiskey and draw some turkeys. That might help relax you.

As to your question, "What is JCPenney tapping into here"...They are tapping into a different more upscale crowd that wants a Polo shirt/pants/comforter at a smarter price. And not stuff with a turkey on it.


February 26, 2008 3:06 PM

The absolutely best part of this horrid campaign is that the American Living label is MADE IN CHINA.

Christy Stadelmaier

February 26, 2008 5:51 PM

I think you underestimate the average consumer's love of the Americana icons used in these products and their promotion. It has successfully worked for Ralph Lauren for decades and it could work for JC Penney, but I question-not the concept, but Penney's ability to execute.

After seeing the ad during the Oscars, my curiosity got the better of me, I went to a Penney store for the first time in 25 years. First of all, walking in the store there was a smell, the same sort of funky smell that has kept me out of K-Mart for decades. Secondly, this is the only store within a 25 mile radius and they do not carry the "American Living" products. I was told I could get it "from the catalog." Thirdly, after a nice Laurenesque online intro page, you are taken to a graphically cluttered page that is more akin to "" than Ralph Lauren to make your purchase. (After 3 clicks you finally get to a decent image.) Fourth and foremost, it is already marked down over 40% - so what is the real price?

I foresee a disappointing return on their efforts for a different reason - the marketers and the merchants in this company do not appear to be on the same page or even reading from the same book. I suspect that much of this marketing campaign will be wasted, but it will not be because of the products.


March 1, 2008 2:35 PM

How about an "american living" logo on a product that's actually produced in america?
Next time you go to buy clothes, try to find US made products. Fairly rare. From what I've found, you can get american made products that are high quiality, attractive, and affordable; - look online.
It's more important now than ever that US businesses are profitable, and US workers have a job that supports their families & our communities, etc. I'm not really pro-union, I'm not employed by a clothing manufacturer, not even right wing; but I do want to see our country as well as "us" as an american people be succesful, and it starts by supporting each other - economically, the #1 way to do that is to buy from producers that produce here.
I will NOT be purchasing any "american living" products.


March 2, 2008 8:21 PM

I totally disagree which the writer. Everything is not for everybody, and I am quite sure he felt the same for brands such as Roca Wear, Baby Phat, etc. which continue to grow and have strong sells. You have to consider the American Family and their love for flashy status showing clothing, cars, etc. My nephew has already ask for the shirt pictured above, because its new and he wants to be the first with it. Yes Penneys has a bad rep, but as someone stated above curiosity will bring the shoppers in. And with the big political campaign, and young voters hitting the polls, everyone is looking for a change, and has a positive American spirit right now.


March 3, 2008 3:02 AM

How about you try and NOT provoke people and not sound so darned ignorant and extremist yourself?

Since when does clothing (regardless of the logo and whether or not it happens to include a flag or not) have anything to do with someone being a conservative or not (other than conservative dressing - but that's a different meaning altogether, isn't it? *g*)?

Yeah, their logo sucks... Big whoop! You've said you peace about it early on, and before you explained why someone who is "ultra conservative" might disagree you bash on them and use all sorts of colorful ways to insult them as if it is insulting to you that you can imagine what you think someone from these groups you've got people categorized into will say to you for stating your opinion... Here's an idea - state your opinion, back it up with whatever fact or reason you want and then move on. If they choose to disagree for their own reasons/facts that's their choice and their opinion - and their right to do so.
But making such intentionally spiteful-sounding attacks at these groups before you complete your opinion makes you sound less like you know what you're talking about and more like you want to appear like you do because you have people arguing with you about what you said - and sadly too many people will be so wrapped up in "my side vs your side" that they'll miss that it wasn't the opinion on the sucky logo that got people riled up (or that you declared it to suck) but that you incited the whole thing by going out of your way to derail your commentary about something to personally make barbs at a group of people you choose to dislike and aggressively instigate simply because you have ideological differences on some (or several, heck maybe even all) issues.
But hey, what do I know? I'm just a 15 year old girl. Maybe when I get older I can learn to be less sarcastic and "outside the lines" and choose to dress up in a cute little uniform of angst, ire, and spite topped off with a little something bearing semblance to cute or sexy (depending on whose team I'm dressed for) that securely binds by hands behind me so I can't reach out to someone from the other team (or take their out reached hand) and a blindfold so I won't tend to try and look beyond what I'm told I should see.


March 3, 2008 7:15 PM

There's nothing wrong with a retailer trying to play on our patriotism to sell their products. Having said that, I'd be more inclined to "display" that patriotism if those items were made right here in the good ol' US of A!


March 5, 2008 4:27 PM

Margaret- Many people couldnt afford items made in the good ol US of A because the cost of labor is too expensive bring the cost of regular goods up. Yeah its made in China, but designed and everything else in the good ol' US of A.


March 12, 2008 8:19 PM

Are they made in America? Oh and Jenny before too long noone will be able to afford anything because everything will be made overseas and noone will have a JOB. Keep buying foreign.


March 20, 2008 11:51 AM

Good greif!! You people are miserable!Okay, mostly David. I think it`s wise of JCP to try to change their image with a great line such as Ralph Lauren. And the clothes DO scream Ralph Lauren.Look what Vera Wang is doing for Khols. And, Izaac Miz for Target. Get a freakin clue!! The ad is fantastic and it does make people curios about going BACK to JCP. I know I couldn`t stand the one here but it has caused me to go back. Okay, let the truth be husband and 10yr old son are IN the ads. WE LOVE AMERICAN LIVING!!!

American Consumer

March 28, 2008 12:40 PM

If I were American Eagle and Old Navy - I would sue for copy right infringement.

What a rip off. Not original at all.


May 19, 2008 9:31 PM

There is an obvious confusion or perhaps ignorance on the part of many posters here. Lauren and Ullman have both stated that "American Living" was created to accent the original roots of Americana and the American culture. Most items in the collection take inspiration from early culturalization of Americans around the 1920's.

The fact that a brand named "American Living" is produced in another country has no basis for the fact that the clothing line is meant to define a certain style, not state that it is an American made product. JCPenney actually carries many retail labels that are manufactured in the U.S., one of the largest being the New Balance shoe brand.

I think that people are misinterpreting what the brand is standing for, yet most of the people who have commented haven’t done their good amount of research.

And the comment that states no one will be able to afford anything because soon everything be made overseas is completely idiotic. Companies outsource in order to keep retail prices (and their pay wages) low. If every single company manufactured inside the United States, we'd have more jobs but would have to have higher retail prices for consumers to help compensate for the higher rate of pay the Americans receive versus foreign pay.


October 6, 2008 9:50 AM

I know! I just saw it yesterday and thought the same thing! U-G-L-Y!

I think JC Penny is holding it's own in the retail market. They represent tremendous value and that is critical attribute for the American Consumer.

Personally, I LOVE their reasonably priced, business casual wear. The store stays well stocked, fresh and they always have a variety of sizes.

This American Living idea needs to go or be redesigned and QUICK!


December 21, 2008 2:29 PM

I love Ralph Lauren merchandise, and the American Living merchandise is very compelling. I do think, however, that JCP needs to improve the presentation in the catalog and website. In store is much better, but advertising photos are not up to typical POLO standards.


January 13, 2009 3:14 PM

Very nice merchandise in comparison to standard Penney's material. Outrageously over-priced; can't imagine any Penney's customers paying full price.

I've watched the clothes undergo markdown after markdown. Maybe JCP customers just have no taste?


April 7, 2009 12:27 PM

I thought the American Living was very nice until I seen it was made in China , so they need to change the logo Chinese living . Yes the prices are great on sale but in the long run This country needs to produce more products in the USA. I want to see JC Penny use the American Living on products created and produced here yes it might cost a little more but it would create more Jobs and help the economy more.


June 26, 2009 6:58 PM

I have to agree with most of the postings already. I just think the American Living line is just plain ugly and its not because of the logo. I just think it does not represent ture "American Living". The clothes are too "flashy/preppy" which does not really represent people that live in the mid-west and I too have seen the clothes undergo markdown after markdown. I just hope that the higher ups or Ralph Lauren realize that maybe they need to do a bit more research on what "American Living" represents and start fresh.


September 5, 2009 1:39 AM

I think that people need to realize that the whole prep look started with Ralph Lauren 40 yrs ago and one can see that through its iconic items such as the Polo (hence Polo Ralph Lauren). The RL brand is an Americana look and not for everyone.

AL (American Living) is designed by RL but outsourced to keep the MSRP down, while providing quality, and value to the JCP customer. The price is definitely lower than Polo Ralph Lauren, and if you look at the Polo tag NOTHING is made in America. Unfortunately, not a lot of things are. The AL and RL brands reflect each other; however, Polo will carry more fashion rather than basic items. This is definitely noticeable in the AL line.

I think its a smart strategy for a iconic fashion designer and his company to launch fashionable product to middle income families that are looking for quality clothing with an exceptional value. However, the logo should be a bit smaller or tone-on-tone.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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