Byline: David Moin and Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — Jerome A. Chazen, Liz Claiborne’s chairman and chief executive officer and one of the architects of the company’s phenomenal growth in the Eighties, may soon join the growing list of Claiborne alumni.
According to sources, the 67-year-old Chazen plans to retire by the spring. Chazen was on a plane and could not be reached late Wednesday.
“It has always been and continues to be our corporate policy not to comment on rumors,” said a spokeswoman for the $2.2 billion firm Wednesday.
“He has a long, illustrious career, but Liz Claiborne absolutely needs to revitalize the corporation and make it lean and flexible to thrive in the new environment of department store consolidations,” a Wall Street source said.
Recently, industry sources have pointed to tensions between Chazen and Paul R. Charron, vice chairman. Charron, sources said, was hired by the board against Chazen’s wishes and has been steadily gaining power at Claiborne.
“Charron walks around seeing himself as the agent of change for the company,” said one former Claiborne executive, who did not want to be named.
“There appears to be emerging a Chazen camp versus a Charron camp, but Chazen’s followers are losing ground,” said another former executive, who also declined to be named.
Just last week, Harvey L. Falk, who was vice chairman and president, and an ally of Chazen’s, announced that he was retiring from the firm Jan. 1. Falk, 60, joined Liz Claiborne in 1982 as its chief financial officer. Wall Street’s take on his leaving was that he was squeezed out by Charron.
“Charron’s a brand man who has had terrific training at Proctor & Gamble and VF Corp. managing different types of large, branded businesses and has experience with different channels of retail distribution. He knows volume and price competition, and knows Wal-Mart, Penney’s and Sears.
“There is a lot of opportunity for new management, a more vital, savvy style of management,” the source added. “There’s going to be a lot of positive actions coming out. This sleepy company is waking up.”
“After Charron’s appointment, there wasn’t any real room for Falk going forward,” said an analyst.
Since Charron joined the firm in April, he’s announced two key restructurings. This month he said that in order to turn around its ailing $1.1 billion sportswear business, the company would put its three better-price sportswear lines — Lizsport, Lizwear and Collection — under three different presidents. They report to Charron.
In another move that shores up Charron’s power, the firm said in mid- November that it was consolidating its three moderate-price brands — Russ, Villager and Crazy Horse — into one unit. The new president, who has yet to be named, will also report to Charron.
Chazen has been with the firm since 1977, the year after it was founded by Elisabeth Claiborne Ortenberg — known professionally as Liz Claiborne — her husband Arthur Ortenberg and Leonard Boxer. All three founders have been retired for several years.
To some Wall Street analysts, Charron’s appointment appeared to define a line of succession at Claiborne. At the time, however, Chazen repeatedly declined to comment on his plans to retire. “We are not thinking of Charron as a replacement but more of a partnership,” Chazen told WWD in April. “Right now I have no plans to retire.”

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