By  on September 29, 2008

Liz Claiborne Inc.’s “problem child” is getting new guardians to whip the retailer into shape.

To turn around Mexx’s troubled European business, Claiborne is shaking up the $1 billion retailer’s European management team by launching a search for a new chief executive officer and tapping a new creative vice president.

The $4 billion Claiborne is searching for a ceo for Mexx — preferably a European, the firm said — which it hopes to find by early next year. In the meantime, Tom Fitzgerald will serve as interim ceo, in addition to his current role as senior vice president of direct brands services at Claiborne. Fitzgerald joined Claiborne a year ago from Burlington Coat Factory, where he was executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Former Mexx ceo Jeff Fardell is moving to senior vice president and managing director of market development for Claiborne, where he will focus on market development, including emerging markets.

On the product end, John Moore will join the firm as consulting vice president for creative. Moore hails from Mossimo Inc., where he was vice president and creative director of the Modern Amusement brand. Prior to joining Mossimo, Moore was senior director of global concept at Abercrombie & Fitch, where he created Hollister. Moore will start to influence Mexx’s product for fall 2009 and fully put a stamp of “fun” and “passion” on the brand by spring 2010, according to Claiborne ceo William L. McComb.

Moore replaces Red Godfrey, Mexx vice president of product and marketing since January 2007, who is leaving the company. Godfrey had been at Nike Inc. before Mexx.

Moore reports to Fitzgerald, who reports to McComb.

The new team’s to-do list includes improving product, strengthening retail operations and making the retail and wholesale presentations more consistent.

“There was a long list of things to do — this is not a new list, we just need to get there faster,” said McComb. “I’ve been dropping bread crumbs that more changes are coming.”

Claiborne already has revealed that it is considering changing the Amsterdam-based firm’s sourcing, after Mexx’s longer-than-expected European turnaround played a large role in Claiborne’s $23.2 million second-quarter loss. Those plans, which sources said could end with a deal with Li & Fung, should be completed in the next month. Sources also have speculated that Claiborne might sell the retailer.

These changes do not affect Mexx Canada, a separate operating division of Claiborne that is performing much better.

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