NEW YORK -- In an effort to turn around its ailing $1.1 billion core sportswear business, Liz Claiborne Inc. said Wednesday it was putting its three better-priced sportswear lines under three different heads.

Linda Larsen German, who had been president of Claiborne's sportswear division -- which consists of Lizsport, Lizwear and Collection -- since December 1993, has been named president of Lizsport, which emphasizes casual career wear.

James C. Lewis, who until recently was vice president of merchandising at Haggar Apparel Co., will join Claiborne Dec. 12 as president of Lizwear, the company's casual denim-based line.

Within a few weeks, Claiborne expects to name a president for Collection, its high-priced career line, which has been revised to include dressier clothes.

Larsen German, Lewis and whoever heads Collection will report to Paul R. Charron, Claiborne's vice chairman and chief operating officer, who came on board last April.

Each line accounts for one-third of the sportswear division's sales.

"These are giant businesses, and they would be better served by putting them under a microscope, each directed by a general manager," said Charron Wednesday. "We are not changing merchandising strategies, just our management approach."

Ironically, only last month, Liz Claiborne consolidated its three moderate-price brands -- Russ, Villager and Crazy Horse. Each had been a separate division. At the time, Charron said the consolidation was an effort to improve efficiency and profitability, and to become more responsive to the customer. "There is a big difference in size between the two businesses," explained Charron, adding that the moderate division generated sales of $76.7 million last year. "We are taking a more integrated strategy with the moderate division. The moderate brands are part of a portfolio."

Charron noted Wednesday that the restructuring of the better-price lines would enable the company to prevent overlapping, a problem Claiborne has been trying to attack for a year. Company officials had believed their efforts would bring a turnaround by spring 1995, but Charron now says that won't happen until next summer.

"We have such a broad spectrum of offerings, from dressy career clothes to funked-out denim items," said Charron. "But in the past, it had been such a big mush. The reality is that each division has different competitors, and we have to respond differently."Each president will be in charge of marketing, production and merchandising, although the three executives will coordinate on visual merchandising, special sizes and production cycles. Larsen German, for example, will coordinate the petites business because of her background. She had been president of Elisabeth, the firm's large-size division and, prior to that, vice president of petites sales.

Claiborne's better-price sportswear division, which accounts for 40 percent of the firm's overall sales and 50 percent of its profits, has been a major problem for the past few years. The merchandise has suffered from eroding market share caused by competition from such firms as Jones Apparel Group, which has been going after the casual sportswear business.

Charron pointed out that Lewis's background was a perfect fit for Lizwear, though he lacked a women's wear background.

"I like the diversity of his background," Charron said. "He has experience in denim and casualwear, as well as in retail. I also like that he was general manager of his own business."

During his nine years at Haggar, Lewis was also vice president of merchandising. He has owned and operated a knit shirt company, Dove International, and spent four years in merchandising for Farah Manufacturing. He started as a management trainee at Burdines department stores.

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