Rihanna, LeAnn Rimes headline JCPenney gala

An icy winter evening in Manhattan wasn’t enough to keep away the crowd of celebrities, stylists, designers and fashion fans at the launch of The JCPenney Experience. The “Experience” is yet another entry into the “temporary store” phenomenon that has swept New York: give the masses immediate access to a store not available in the city, create a “limited-edition” mentality by providing the mainstream for a short period of time and save car-less pedestrians the headaches of trying to figure out how to buy the same in that foreign land called New Jersey.

Red, the primary color of JCPenney’s latest campaign, ruled the opening-night gala, which benefited Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. JCPenney executives spoke candidly of the company’s previous financial difficulties, then excitedly turned their attention to their biggest marketing campaign yet, hoping to “shock the world” with a much-needed brand makeover to coincide with their sponsorship of the Academy Awards on March 5. The result is a new series of fun and contemporary fashion and home accessories by designers Nicole Miller, Michele Bohbot, Nick Graham, Shaun Tomson and Chris Madden.

Celebrities in attendance included actress Bebe Neuwirth, singer Rihanna, Joan Rivers and a radiant LeAnn Rimes, who was accompanied by her husband Dean Sheremet. An always-smiling LeAnn meandered through the crowd and up all three floors of the store, moving her head to the music and taking particular note of the wedding registry section with stylist Phillip Bloch. (And with good reason: LeAnn and her husband star in a series of gorgeous wedding registry advertisements for JCPenney.)

The later the gala wore on, the louder the buzz in the air became, punctuated by an excited onstage exclamation of “JCPenney rocks Times Square!!!!” by Shaun Thomson, causing a couple of attendees to wonder aloud, “Who would have thought that you would have ever heard a line like that?”

The JCPenney Experience is open every day from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and will run through March 26.

all photos and video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine