By  on October 4, 2007

CHICAGO — Liz Claiborne Apparel has a new marketing tool — denim.

The goal is to entice customers with a flattering pair of jeans and get them to keep coming back for more. That's the driving force behind the company's nationwide denim tour, launched with Glamour magazine and headlined by fashion guru Tim Gunn, Claiborne's chief creative officer. The six-city tour, complete with traveling "glam van," made its second "fit stop" for a crowd of some 300 women outside the Carson Pirie Scott at Yorktown Center, near Chicago in suburban Lombard, Ill., two weeks ago.

The company rolled out $39 to $79 jeans with new cuts, colors, washes and novelty stitching and marketed its denim selection with special signage in stores to explain the different styles, which come in misses' sizes 2 to 16, larger sizes from 14 to 24 and in petites sizes 2 to 16.

For some women, trying on jeans is a dreaded task akin to trying on swimsuits, said Michele Parsons, president and chief merchandising officer for the Liz Claiborne Apparel division.

"A lot of women are afraid of it," she said. "They think denim is only something you can wear if you're slim or six feet tall."

Leave it to Gunn, of Bravo's "Project Runway" to, using his phrase, "make it work.'' Gunn said he helped women to make better choices and give up jeans that were too faded and too big or cinched at the waist but baggy and saggy in the hip and thigh.

"They looked like they could go out and pick some corn," he said. "They didn't look like fashion."

But after a few minutes in the glam van, more than 100 women emerged fitted and transformed, Gunn said.

In particular, Gunn, who also hosts Bravo's "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style," cited one woman in her 60s with an average build who left saying, "'I look fantastic in the slim cut,'" Gunn recalled. "She was reborn. She was thrilled. We had a lot of happy women."

Claiborne's darker boot-cut silhouette was the most popular because it was the most universally flattering, he said.During a question-and-answer session, audience members presented Gunn with issues he plans to share with Claiborne executives, namely how to meet the needs of plus-size women and how to best accommodate 5-foot 3-inch women who are too tall for petites and too short for regular sizes.

Gunn was asked his opinion on capri pants, responding that "for more diminutive women, it makes legs look shorter and stubbier."

With that, Leah Caruso, Claiborne's director of marketing, rolled down her capri-look jeans to create a longer line.

Claiborne also illustrated the versatility of its denim in a fashion presentation that at its conclusion highlighted three models, one wearing size 14, another with a straight size 4 figure and a more hourglass-shaped model wearing a size 6, all in different denim looks for daytime, evening and weekend wear.

"Denim has taken over the fashion world, and this is our opportunity to serve our customer and make her feel comfortable and safe, and also current," Parsons said.

Noting that the denim market may have overlooked women aged 40 and older, she added, "it's a huge opportunity."

For those 150 or so attendees who didn't receive a one-on-one fitting, Caruso said the company plans to send invitations for an in-store fit clinic.

"We want to give her an experience so she'll keep coming back," Caruso said of potential Claiborne customers.

Meanwhile, the company's denim push appears to be having an impact. Parsons said sales are strong, with its main doors — Macy's, Dillard's and Carson's — ordering more denim than initially projected.

After stopping in Bloomington, Minn., and Lombard last month, the tour hits Macy's in Bridgewater, N.J. and Houston; Belk at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Dillard's at Kenwood Mall in Cincinnati this month.

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