NEW YORK — Liz Claiborne Inc. is now Fifth & Pacific Cos. Inc. and William L. McComb, its chief executive officer, is on the offensive.
Gone is the apparel manufacturer that put a generation of working women in pantsuits and grew into a portfolio-centric company with more than 30 brands. The Liz Claiborne brand was sold to J.C. Penney Co. Inc. last year while a majority of the ailing Mexx division was spun off along with a number of other assets, and the proceeds were used to cut the company’s debt load to $317 million from $698 million just over a year ago. The changes sparked the name change, which was revealed in January and will be made official today when the company’s stock will start trading under the ticker FNP.
Now the company revolves around Kate Spade, Juicy Couture and Lucky Brand — three brands that were bought with free cash flow provided by the Liz Claiborne business. The brands have grown into retailers in their own right, with domestic wholesale revenues accounting for only 10 to 15 percent of their U.S. top line.
“These businesses are in what I would call true start-up mode,” said a relaxed and upbeat McComb in an interview Monday. “There’s a tremendous amount of entrepreneurship in the businesses. The culture is these are hard-working, lean, fast-moving and superinnovative teams. They’ve inventing as they go along. They’re not running the bases of well-established processes in a big machine that’s been humming and running smoothly. They’re, all three, hungry, scrappy start-ups. We have three simultaneously early-stage companies.”
McComb finally seems to have positioned the company to his liking.
“The last six months have been very different,” the ceo said, a Fifth & Pacific logo spinning behind him on his desktop screen saver. “The best way to express it is a shift from being 75 percent defense to 75 percent offense.”
Kate Spade, with comparable sales per square foot at $989 for the past 12 months, is charging ahead, as Lucky Brand found its footing with sales of $448 a square foot.
New Juicy Couture product was introduced this year, the brand’s sales are at $661 a square foot and McComb said the business is about a year behind Lucky in its reinvention.
Like everyone else in the industry, McComb has taken note of Michael Kors Holdings Ltd.’s initial public offering and its market capitalization of $7.75 billion and said his company can grab a bigger part of the booming handbag business.
“[The consumer’s] putting more of her apparel and accessories dollars into what I would call ‘investment-grade handbags,’” McComb said. “I think it has another five- to 10-year run in it. I see all ships rising with the growth of fast-growing brands like Kate and Michael Kors. I think you’ll see Juicy stake out some really nice territory there over the next two to three years.”
The sweet spot for the investment-grade handbag is the $298 to $498 price range, he said.
McComb said Fifth & Pacific’s results would ultimately speak for themselves.
“There were some tough times,” he admitted of his tenure. “I’ve never minded being underestimated. I would much rather be the underdog in a situation or to be discounted and misunderstood.…It’s very important that as a lead of a company that you lean into a future, that you actually are driving an organization toward something and not from something.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast