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Dueling divas of décor

Welcome to the world of the dueling decorating divas.

Where Martha once was the only game in town with almost limitless access to retail stores via Kmart and her own Signature product lines, print media, personal appearances and TV, we now have Chris Madden and Jane Seymour, who have recently signed on to do similar activities for JCPenney and Saks Department Stores, respectively.

And let's not forget a very successful Christopher Lowell, whose program of home furnishings for Luxury Linens is not even registering on most home textiles mavens' radar screens. But here's a guy with a popular TV show, creating product for a Home Textiles Today Top 50 retailer. And, he's probably the only person alive who ever caused consumer chaos and pandemonium, on a very pleasant level, at a furniture store with his personal appearance for Jordan's in Massachusetts.

Rumbles over the last year indicated that the world's largest retailer was going in this direction as well. So far, nothing has come of it, but the Bentonville folks supposedly were going across the big water to snare a British Martha type, Anne McKevitt.

The significant differentiator for the Madden and Seymour programs is that they are all-embracing in the home world. The celebrity names that are participating are doing so more than just as a nameplate. Both Madden and Seymour have consumer access in many ways — and their participation with their retailer partners will be on more than just the product level.

While the JCPenney/Madden collaboration is yet to roll out, the Seymour program is in store, with the sequel already in the works. And for all you home furnishings mavens out there, when was the last time (or first) you heard of consumers pushing a retailer to offer something for sale that was planned as a backdrop? That happened with the furniture from the Seymour program that was strictly for display — until consumers told the Saks folks otherwise. It'll be in 200 doors by yearend.

These programs go far beyond what some other retailers are doing — picking a "designer name," showcasing it in-store and via sporadic advertising — and moving on a season or so later. And then there is the "exclusive label" with limited reach that is being tried by some other retailers.

Pretty soon the airwaves could be cluttered with decorating babble.

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