Byline: Lisa Lockwood --with contributions from Anne D'Innocenzio

NEW YORK--Tommy Hilfiger and Liz Claiborne are talking women's wear.
Hilfiger has been looking for a women's collection licensee since June, and on Thursday, designer Hilfiger confirmed that his company was eyeing the giant women's apparel manufacturer for such an alliance.
"We have held talks," said Tommy Hilfiger, principal designer and honorary chairman of the company that bears his name. "Liz Claiborne is a very interesting, well-bred company, and we would only be interested in talking to companies in that league. I cannot say a deal is imminent, but we have met."
Liz Claiborne officials declined comment.
After assessing the costs and benefits of developing a women's wear collection internally, the Hilfiger firm, as reported, made the decision to seek a licensee for women's wear rather than develop it in-house. At that time, Jay Margolis, president and vice chairman of Hilfiger, who had been brought in to develop the women's line internally, resigned. Hilfiger then began its search for a "premiere women's wear company" to manufacture and market the collection aimed at the better to bridge market. Ironically, Margolis had previously been vice chairman of Claiborne.
Hilfiger, one of the most successful companies in the current wear market, is expected to do $400 million in volume this year, according to analysts.
Last week, Hilfiger signed a deal with sister company, SEL Investments Corp., the parent of Pepe Jeans London Corp., to manufacture and market women's and men's jeanswear under the Tommy Jeans label. As reported, Joel Horowitz, chief executive officer and president of Hilfiger said at the time that the company was still on plan to introduce a total women's sportswear collection in 1997.
Hilfiger, which does its own men's and boys' sportswear, has developed a licensing strategy signing up leading firms in each of the desired categories. For example, it has a deal with Hart Schaffner & Marx for men's tailored clothing, EstAe Lauder for fragrance, Jockey for underwear and Oxford Industries for men's dress shirts. Last month it signed Stride Rite for footwear.
In fall 1997, Lauder plans to launch a women's scent to coincide with a debut of Hilfiger's women's fashions, as reported.
The potential licensing deal with Hilfiger is the latest in a series of moves by Paul Charron, chief executive officer of Liz Claiborne, to reverse the lagging fortunes of the $2.2 billion giant. The company appears to be looking for new growth opportunities beyond its core better sportswear business, which had stalled at retail.
As part of its turnaround strategy, the company is trying to develop its moderate sportswear business, a market that it has barely tapped. The labels--Russ, Crazy Horse and Villager--were acquired in 1992 and have suffered from a lack of a coherent merchandising strategy. To improve results, Charron last year moved to consolidate the lines into one division to create a portfolio of brands. The firm has had success in the bridge market with its Dana Buchman division.
The company is also out to improve efficiency and responsiveness and also has announced plans to develop a new major ad campaign.

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