CLAIBORNE REINVENTS CAREER
Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio
NEW YORK — Liz Claiborne Inc., which has spearheaded a turnaround in many of its divisions, is now focusing on bringing back its crown jewel — career fashions, a business with which it was identified since the Seventies, but which started losing ground in the early Nineties.
The overhaul of the career division — the name of which has been changed from Collection to Career — will begin with fall selling. It will offer a two-pronged approach to lifestyle dressing, with two labels: Collection, which is fashion-driven, and Classics, which offers traditional basics.
The $2.4 billion Claiborne will pitch the concept with an aggressive new ad campaign that will break in August fashion books and through its in-store shops. The marketing slogan will be “The New Business Class.” An eight-page ad features model Niki Taylor.
The Collection and Classics lines will be relaunched for fall, with Classics, which is more value-driven, in an additional 200 doors. The company has stepped up the number of career consultants from last fall’s 100 to this fall’s 1,000.
Claiborne will sponsor 150 events, which include fashion shows, informal wardrobing and private consultations, in 12 cities from Aug. 25 to Oct. 12.
The company is also sending stores a video that spells out Claiborne’s new career strategy. The video will be used to educate salespeople, said Elissa Bromer, president of the Career division and a former president of Andrea Jovine.
As for its advertising, Al Shapiro, vice president of marketing for Claiborne, noted that the campaign, created by ad firm Gotham Inc. “recognizes the busy, complex lifestyle” of today’s woman.
The campaign, which will focus on Collection, puts Taylor in various roles, from mother to working professional who goes out at night.
“I think the biggest problem in this better-career area is that there is too much product that is meaningless,” said Bromer.
Bromer, who joined Claiborne last October to head Career, said: “With this new strategy, we believe we are now back in touch with the modern working woman.”
The Collection label, whose holiday line includes such designs as merino twinsets, shown with trousers in a blend of polyester, wool and Lycra spandex, iridescent blouses, stretch suits in polyester, wool Lycra and cotton, and silk tricatene sleeveless dresses, shown with a cardigan, accounts for about 60 percent of the Career division mix. The Classics label includes tuxedo pantsuits, black sheaths, pleated long skirts and pinstriped shirts.
The two labels will be merchandised adjacent to each other at retail, Bromer said.
Claiborne’s Studio line, dress-down career clothes that made its debut about two years ago, is being discontinued, ending with summer deliveries. Bromer pointed out there is no longer a need for it because the overall career division reflects the relaxed attitude that has come with the loosening of dress codes for the workplace.
As part of the new merchandising strategy, the number of styles within Career has been reduced by 20 percent for fall, but knitwear offerings are up 20 percent. Knitwear accounts for 40 percent of the Collection line and 30 percent of the Classics line, Bromer said.
Bromer said she is bringing a sophisticated bridge taste level to the career area, introducing such fabrics as silk and cashmere blends and silks in knits and wovens. However, prices for the clothes will not be increased. The Collection line retails from $150 to $258, while Classics will range in price from $49 to $198.
Bromer said that in revamping Claiborne’s career line, she is aiming to increase regular price selling and increase penetration in its existing doors. Claiborne’s career area has steadily lost real estate to Jones Apparel Group, according to analysts, who believe the company is trying to take direct aim at its competitor.
Bromer said Claiborne is already starting to see an uptick in retail sales, reporting a 11 percent increase this spring. She attributed that to the company’s tighter fashion deliveries.
Claiborne’s career division has been eroding since 1992, when it hit its peak of about $300 million, according to Margaret Whitfield, an analyst at Tucker Anthony.
“Claiborne has a lot of business to recapture,” she noted. Last year, Claiborne’s career division rang up only $182.8 million in sales. In 1996, it accounted for $209.7 million; in 1995, $207.1 million; in 1994, $238.1 million and in 1993, $274.3 million.
Meanwhile, Claiborne’s casual business has racked up double-digit gains since 1996. For 1997, casual, which is comprised of Liz & Co., Lizsport and Lizwear, reached a volume of $708.5 million, compared to $607.6 million in 1996, according to the company’s annual report. In 1995, the figure was $555.9 million.
Claiborne has been trying to reclaim its career business for the past couple of seasons, first under Glenn Palmer, who left as division president last September. About 18 months ago, the company began updating its jacket silhouettes, making them less boxy and more shapely, and began sourcing its fabrics from Italy. It also branched out with Liz Claiborne Studio.
However, the company’s career’s performance was inconsistent, riddled with delivery and quality problems.
“We are trying to bring back what we had in the Seventies,” said Bromer.
Obviously, it was a lot easier to dress career professionals then. Twenty years ago, the consumer was into outfit dressing, and her purchases weren’t item-driven. Now, with looser dress codes, there is no clear definition of a power suit. Cardigans have replaced jackets, and women are more into silk camisoles instead of blouses, according to buyers and analysts.
“The whole theme today is about lifestyle,” said Jennifer Black, an analyst at Black & Co., who has not yet seen Claiborne’s revamped career line.
“They are addressing what is going in the consumers’ heads. In the past, Claiborne did not give Jones a lot of competition. Going forward, I think they will give some competition to Jones, but I think there is room for two excellent players. Both companies have to be more cutting-edge with classic product. You have to have those cooler silhouettes. It can’t just be about a boxy, double-breasted jacket.”
At least one retail executive who reviewed Claiborne’s career fall and holiday deliveries, offered a positive report.
“I liked it, and it is very salable,” said Kathy Bufano, executive vice president of merchandising at Macy’s East. “It is also priced well. I also liked the gift-giving items. The cruise line looked fresh, with its red, white and blue palette.”
However, she warned, “In order to keep the collection moving forward fashionwise, they need to keep differentiating classics from collection.”