LIZ DRESSES: THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Byline: Arthur Friedman

NEW YORK--Liz Claiborne Dresses is back on track, after falling off course and losing direction in recent years.
That's the word from Harriet Mosson, president of the division, and from key retail accounts, who are looking for a big 1995 for Claiborne dresses.
After volume at the dress division fell 28 percent in two years--to $130 million in 1993 from $180 million in 1991--Mosson, who became president of the division in December 1992, began the task of rejuvenating the label. She soon put in motion a number of strategies, including redefining the Claiborne customer.
The biggest piece of the puzzle fell into place last year, when Mosson split the dress division into three separate entities--Liz Collection, Liz Night and Liz Now. A tight focus is the key to each label, as Mosson describes them:
Liz Collection--career and day-to-dinner done in seasonless fabrics.
Liz Now--relaxed lifestyle, soft and unconstructed, more trendy.
Liz Night--Understated and youthful, concentrating primarily on bridal attire and cocktail.
While 1994 yearend figures are not yet available, Mosson said the results of updating and revamping the division--still considered the top better-priced dress label--began to show up in the second half.
Mosson said third-quarter selling was strong, fueled by three successful consumer catalogs that focused separately on dinner dresses, holiday looks and knits. But fourth-quarter business was soft, primarily due to disappointing eveningwear sales.
However, all three lines are sold out for spring and summer, she said.
"We're set to have a very successful season and are now working toward doing the same for the second half of the year," she said. "We're enjoying increased sales plans for '95. Many stores are intensifying our assortment and working with us to develop enhanced presentations."
Retailers agree that Mosson has led a solid revamping of the dress division.
Barbara Thomas, divisional vice president and merchandise manager at Lazarus, said Claiborne dresses generated 41 percent comparable store gains in 1994.
"The refocusing of the line has addressed the career customer, which is the focus of our dress department," Thomas said. "Harriet's done a great job of reinterpreting strong bodies from one season to another with a little bit of updating."
Thomas said the Liz Claiborne brand continues to have strong consumer identification and accounts for 50 percent of the store's better-priced dress business.
"Harriet Mosson has really got the different lines focused, and has streamlined the styling and presentation of each collection," said Kathy Kopp, divisional vice president for dresses and suits at Woodward & Lothrop. Kopp said the Collection line has been performing "extremely well" in W&L and John Wanamaker stores, adding, "It's good career styling that's right up our customer's alley."
Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president of fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor, noted L&T launched Liz Night for fall with great success.
"We've just received Liz Now spring merchandise, and we feel it offers a lot of potential," said Olexa, noting that the Collection line remains a key career resource at L&T. "The segmenting of the label is a good way to grow a very mature business."
Another aspect of Mosson's new strategy was the introduction last year of quick-turn domestic manufacturing, augmenting the firm's import programs.
"We're looking to expand it and make ourselves more fluid and more responsive," Mosson said. "Our ability to ship reorders shows the retailer our commitment to maximize our profitability and volume opportunities."

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