By  on May 25, 1994

NEW YORK -- Lizwear, the casual weekend wear division of Liz Claiborne, is charting a new course -- steered by denim. The nine-year-old denim division had moved away from its own identity recently, veering into other casual apparel.

While Claiborne officials declined to reveal specific figures for the Lizwear division, it is part of Claiborne's giant sportswear group whose sales last year dropped to $1.1 billion from $1.2 billion in 1992. One of the key strategies to turn the business around, the company has stated, is to make a clearer distinction among the three sportswear divisions -- Collection, Lizwear and Lizsport.

Maxine Forman, who joined Claiborne last September as head of Lizwear, said one of her jobs is to clear up what exactly Lizwear is.

"When Lizwear first started, it was strictly denim," she said. "The company started to put some tops with it, and suddenly it became its own division. It started to take a casual twist, and then it ran into Lizsport. There started to be some crossover between the two divisions. So the company decided Lizwear needed to be more pure."

One of the identifying characteristics of Lizwear was its heavy denim dependence; Forman has moved the line back in that direction -- with a vengeance.

"Lizwear has always been in denim, but never in as substantial a way as it will be, starting in June," said Forman. "That's going to be a very, very, very big part of this line. We've always run a five-pocket and a tailored jean with an angled side seam, but now we're going to be a jeans business. You have designer people, and then you have volume-oriented people. We're right in the middle with The Gap, but The Gap doesn't cater to the missy woman."

The three styles that will be the core of Lizwear are: a five-pocket jean; a "lean jean" style with an angled side seam, and a relaxed fit tailored jean with pleats. These will be on a Quick Response system with some retailers so that, as Forman said, "stores can get them from 10 days to two weeks."

"We've taken a huge position on fabric and production," she added. "We were very aggressive in our plans, and stores are responding."The line is sourced and manufactured "all over -- some of it is made in the Caribbean, some in the Far East," Forman said. In addition to basic indigo washes, there will be colored denim, such as burgundy, wine, brown, forest green and mustard. New colors will come to the line every six weeks or so, she said.

There will be quite a bit of additional merchandise, but it will all be either denim or have a denim flavor. Items include chambray shirts and denim jackets, blazers, vests, dresses and skirts of all lengths. Fashion pieces will include some crisp cotton poplin shirts, fleece pieces, rib knit tops and jacquard vests.

Come spring, Forman said, there will be denim shirts in blue, black, white and some colors. "We want to be a source for everything denim for the Liz woman," said Forman. "But we are also trying to be more item-driven. I think this is the way people buy casualwear. We'll always have basics like a T-shirt or turtleneck, but there will also be things like novelty shirtings and ribbed cotton sweaters."

In addition to the denim bottoms, there will be two types of cotton twill bottoms, both in the same slightly relaxed but tailored two-pleat style, which will be shipped with a belt. The July delivery will use a solid cotton pigment-dyed twill in khaki, green, mustard and dark brown. For the August delivery, Lizwear will use a solid cotton twill piece-dyed sandwashed fabric in pine green, burgundy, dark brown, khaki and cognac.

Wholesale prices of the jeans range from $19 for the five-pocket to $24 for the tailored style shipped with a belt. A basic T-shirt will be $14, while other items, such as a denim shirtdress will be $31. A group of polyester and viscose jacquard vests is $34, a fleece sleeveless pullover is $27 and a denim jean jacket is $31. The first delivery is scheduled for June 15, with new merchandise available every six weeks.

The company hopes to have stores put the Lizwear line near other Liz Claiborne lines but with its own distinct look to eliminate any confusion with other Liz Claiborne merchandise. It also has some ideas about how the in-store shops should look. Forman said suggestions for retailers include having the five-pocket jean stacked on a central table, but with the more styled jeans and other items hung around it on display racks. The jeans will have redesigned pocket flashers and size strips to aid consumers in finding their size.While Forman has high hopes for the line's reception, she doesn't expect miracles in the first season.

"We're putting big units in the warehouse, and we're taking a very strong position on fabric," she said. "But I'm sure it will be a learning curve."

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