Liz Claiborne Inc. has enlisted Isaac Mizrahi to rescue its struggling flagship brand.
Mizrahi is leaving Target Corp. — the venue that introduced him to the mainstream customer — at the end of this year and will become creative director for all categories of the better-priced women's Liz Claiborne brand, beginning in spring 2009.
William L. McComb, chief executive officer of the $4.99 billion Liz Claiborne Inc., told WWD that the "long-term" deal — the brainchild of Dave McTague, executive vice president of partnered brands for Liz Claiborne Inc. — has been in the works for months.
"Dave walked in the door with a charter to fill the emotional vacuum of the brand," McComb said. "Liz Claiborne is an extremely well-known, well-regarded brand that failed to deliver on the core values that made it great in the first place: color, fit, value and style. The turning point was when Liz Claiborne died [in June], and we got lots of calls and letters from consumers who didn't know she hadn't been working here since 1989."
Claiborne is hopeful that Mizrahi can bring his fashion wit and color sense to the struggling women's collection.
Mizrahi's appointment follows Monday's announcement that John Bartlett will design the Claiborne men's sportswear line, under the label Claiborne by John Bartlett, also launching for spring 2009. Unlike the men's line, the core Liz Claiborne collection will not be called Liz Claiborne by Isaac Mizrahi, though his association with the brand will be clear on the labels.
"Isaac is an international icon," McTague said. "He not only knows this woman, he adores her. His core values are so perfectly aligned with our core brand: fit, color, comfort, value, fun and a uniquely American brand."
Mizrahi replaces Richard Ostell, who has designed the line since 2005. Karen Harvey Consulting conducted the search.
Suffering from what Claiborne executives have admitted was stagnant product, the flagship brand has seen a continued slide in volume, from about $2 billion in the early Nineties to accounting for part of the $1.5 billion in sales of the Liz Claiborne brand family, which now also includes Liz & Co., Concepts by Claiborne, Claiborne, Axcess and Villager, brought in last year. McComb said the goal still is to stabilize the losses before he focuses on growing the line. He added that the company will probably be holding prices, but improving the product to deliver better value for the price, which has been a weakness of the brand.Last year the biggest wholesale partner for the Claiborne brand, Macy's, drastically cut back orders, partly as a response to the creation of the diffusion Liz & Co. line for J.C. Penney. Mizrahi will not design Liz & Co. or other diffusion lines.
"This is the long-awaited differentiation that Macy's has been asking for," McComb said. "This is the vital answer to the differentiation."
Jennifer Black, a retail analyst at her namesake firm, thinks the move will earn back the space the line has lost in retailers, which sources said have scaled back spring orders 30 percent, after 50 percent reductions last year. "In the short run, are things going to change? No, but longer term, the space they have been losing in department stores may stabilize," said Black. "If these department stores have the opportunity to carry Isaac Mizrahi, which was a huge draw for Target, they would be crazy to not do it."
Sources speculate Mizrahi will appear in everything from in-store appearances to runway shows during New York Fashion Week for the line. Like Liz Claiborne Inc. chief creative officer Tim Gunn, who has been promoting the collection this fall with in-store shows, Mizrahi is a familiar face on television. In addition to hosting his own series on both the Oxygen Network and the Style Network, Mizrahi is a regular guest star on other shows, including, interestingly, a recent appearance on "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style." In February, he will launch his new Web-based series "WatchIsaac" at Watchisaac.com.
"It's a great move for Liz Claiborne, and a huge loss for Target," said Black. "They couldn't have picked a better person. Isaac really understands this customer, and he has done the high-end and really done a great job targeting it to the mainstream market. I would bet he would be doing lots of personal appearances once they have the product out. With him designing it, the line could be pretty great."
Sources estimated Mizrahi's collection for Target does more than $300 million at retail annually, with last year being its best ever. Sales have doubled every year since the line was launched in 2003. Target's agreement with Mizrahi expires at the end of this year, which some might see as a blow to the discount retailer. Mizrahi's arrival at Target helped foster its cool image and was a major force in elevating its apparel offering. Recently, however, Target has seen sharp falls in same-store sales, with many analysts saying the Mizrahi collection and other lines need freshening up.A three-time winner of the designer of the year award at the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Mizrahi opened his own sportswear business in 1987. Before shuttering his design house, bankrolled by Chanel, in 1998, the industry heralded Mizrahi as the next big thing in American fashion as a designer who was known for his wit and charm. He hosted theatrical runway shows and was featured in his line's print ads. At the time of its closing, Mizrahi's collection business was estimated at $8 million to $10 million at wholesale, plus another $15 million to $20 million from the ISAAC bridge division. He made his big media debut with the documentary "Unzipped," about the development of his fall 1994 collection.
He reinvented himself four years ago when he started designing his line for Target, as well as a couture collection for Bergdorf Goodman — epitomizing the emergence of high-low. He will continue his designer line.
Mizrahi wasn't available for comment Tuesday, but said in a statement: "Liz Claiborne is an American fashion icon. Her clothes were not only beautiful, not only smart, they were revolutionary. She invented separates, and invented an entirely new category in the department store.
"She made fashion friendly and accessible, and in doing so, she became every woman's best friend. These are all ideas I treasure and I'm honored to have the opportunity to build on this fantastic legacy and excited to reestablish the label as a must-have. And, as excited as I am about developing Liz Claiborne, the collaboration also affords fantastic opportunities for growth in my own brand," said Mizrahi.
Mainstream brands have brought in well-known designers to resuscitate themselves with varying success. Although Patrick Robinson at Perry Ellis and, more recently, Isabel Toledo at Jones Apparel Group's Anne Klein, enjoyed critical success, both had short-lived tenures. But McComb promised the deal with Mizrahi will have a better fate, and consultants seem to agree.
"Liz has felt like a dormant brand for quite some time without a strong sense of identity or relevancy," said Catherine Sadler, president of New York marketing firm Catherine Sadler Group. "Isaac represents approachable fashion to Middle America."
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye