Byline: Kristin Larson

NEW YORK — Liz Claiborne, also recognizing the opportunity in moderate sportswear for contemporary, affordably priced clothes, began research about two years ago on creating a new line.
The result: Axcess, which arrived in Kohl’s and Mervyn’s about a month ago for spring and is aimed at young moms and working women — or anyone younger in attitude and looking for style at a price she can afford.
“This is a means of capturing that younger customer who might not find anything that appeals to her except for in juniors, but maybe she can’t wear a junior cut,” said Helen McCluskey, president of Special Markets at Liz Claiborne, interviewed at the company’s Seventh Avenue showroom last Friday. “And if you go onto the moderate floor, what you see is juniors, which is really trendy, funky and hip, and moderate misses’ — so there’s a huge gap in the middle.”
The goal is to bridge the gap between juniors and misses’, McCluskey said, by offering product that’s a little more body-hugging and body-conscious than traditional styles and silhouettes. This consumer might want to shop higher-priced contemporary lines, but cannot, so it will be important to stay on top of trends, she said.
“We’ll look at Laundry and what’s trending there. We’ll look at Kenneth Cole and DKNY and take those trends and interpret them for this customer base,” she said, referring to three of Claiborne brands. “We’re not going to be Laundry from an esthetic standpoint, but if ruffles are selling, then the question is ‘how do we translate that?”‘
The collection will include about 35 styles each season and is about 65 percent knits. The base fabric is a polyester and rayon spandex and most of the items are washable. The line includes a versatile assortment of coordinates and separates in rich colors and lightweight fabrics. The emphasis is on soft, feminine styling and key items include woven shirts with ruching details, wrap blouses, dressy denim pants, boot-cut pants and ruffled blouses. Prices wholesale from $17 for a sweater to $25 for a woven bottom.
Axcess, exclusive to Kohl’s and Mervyn’s right now, is intended to complement Claiborne’s Villager line, a more classic women’s apparel and accessories label also sold at those stores and aimed at a consumer 45 years and up.
“This is really about capturing a new customer,” McCluskey said.
The line is in 150 doors now, and the goal is to increase that number to 250 doors by the end of this year. The clothing label is black, with white letters spelling out Axcess — except for the ‘c’ which is red for Claiborne.
While market researchers drummed up the name Axcess, McCluskey said it’s the end result that matters most — an image of accessibility, energy and ease — top priorities for this consumer.
“When searching for a name, we wanted to have something that crosses all genders, all categories, sounded very contemporary and current,” she said. “Axcess could be accessories, shoes, could be men’s, women’s, kids, anything.”
This marks the seventh moderate line for Liz Claiborne, joining Villager, Meg Allen, Russ, First Issue, Emma James and Crazy Horse.
“All the trends are in our favor, the economic trends, the consumer gravitating toward moderate,” McCluskey added. “It’s much more back to value. When you look at the luxury market, it’s really suffering now because people have stepped back and reassessed how they’re going to spend time and money. Convenience has become more important and most of the moderate retailers are much more convenient.”

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