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Claiborne Readies Lines for Spring Relaunch

Several Liz Claiborne Inc. lines that are deemed to be underperforming or in need of repositioning are slated for spring 2009 relaunches.

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The future is now for Liz Claiborne Inc.

Several lines that the $4.58 billion company deemed to be underperforming or in need of repositioning — foremost, its flagship Liz Claiborne brand that Isaac Mizrahi is taking over — are slated for spring 2009 relaunches, which will be presented in September.

In addition to the company’s namesake better-priced brand, anticipated debuts include Dana Buchman’s relaunch down market as an exclusive line with Kohl’s, Kate Spade under creative director Deborah Lloyd, John Barlett’s relaunch of the better-priced men’s label Claiborne and the kickoff of DKNY men’s better sportswear.

How “irresistible” — one of the company’s favorite words — the product looks will be a measure of the execution of Claiborne’s sweeping changes. The most significant will be Mizrahi’s take on the $875 million Claiborne brand, which has been troubled for years.

Claiborne chief executive officer William L. McComb described the spring relaunches as “very important and fundamental,” but he declined to project volume improvements for the first few seasons, particularly given the unpredictable impact of the economy.

“What matters most in these first few seasons is getting the fundamentals right, making them naturally margining businesses, with sell-throughs our partners admire, that are drivers of traffic in their departments,” McComb said. “We are rebuilding this business logically, re-educating consumer and wholesaler, which isn’t something that happens in one season.”

Analyst Jennifer Black, who initially had been skeptical about the task of Claiborne’s turnaround, issued a research note Monday that she labeled, “The revolution has begun — against all odds.” Black endorsed the beginnings of what she called a turnaround after seeing Kate Spade’s holiday and resort collections, including handbags, footwear and a smattering of apparel.

“We believe the merchandise assortment is headed in the right direction,” Black said. “The brand seems a bit whimsical, yet classic, and is well priced, in our opinion. We believe this differentiates it from other competitors such as Coach. The current assortment in stores does not reflect what is to come and is much improved, in our opinion.”

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