Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — Target Stores, which has encroached on the Wal-Mart and Kmart turf with much success, is now going the celebrity brand route.
Just like Wal-Mart’s Kathie Lee Collection and Kmart’s lines with Kathy Ireland and Jaclyn Smith, Target and Liz Claiborne said Monday they are teaming up with Niki Taylor, Claiborne’s model for its ad campaigns in recent years, to create a namesake apparel line exclusively for the trendy mass merchant.
Taylor is joining a growing list of model/celebrities like Christy Turlington and Emme, who have recently made the move to fashion brand.
Since 1996, Taylor has served as the face for the Liz Claiborne brand, appearing on Times Square billboards and print ads. With this new venture, Taylor will no longer be a model for the Liz Claiborne brand, starting with fall.
The Niki Taylor collection, which will offer moderate-priced business casual and weekend wear, will be launched in 150 doors for holiday and is expected to be rolled out to all doors by fall 2001, according to Kim Roy, group president of special markets and accessories. Target currently operates 980 units.
Claiborne officials declined to offer sales projections, but they believe the line could represent one of the biggest businesses within its Special Markets division, which produces five mass and moderate labels. There are plans to add special sizes, accessories and children’s products, ultimately building a lifestyle collection under the Niki Taylor label, according to Roy.
Analysts project the Niki Taylor brand could reach $100 million to $200 million within the next three years. Last year, the Special Markets division generated a volume of $100 million.
Taylor’s career move from model to fashion brand fits into Claiborne’s marketing strategy on several fronts.
“Niki Taylor was really an intrinsic part of our marketing strategy. She really helped solidify our campaign,” said Roy. “But it it is time to have a new kind of face for the Liz brand, even though it has been a successful run.”
She added, “We were also searching for a sixth brand within our specialty markets targeting Target.”
Target, she said, represents big opportunities, given its size and “phenomenal marketing capability.” “It draws upscale consumers as well as moderate consumers,” Roy said. “It is the epitome of where people cross-shop.”
Analysts believe that the venture fits well into Target’s strategy. The retailer, which has built its business on private label offerings, is now going after name brands. In March, for example, Mossimo announced that it was exiting wholesaling and struck a long-term licensing arrangement to be exclusively in all of Target’s doors.
A Target spokeswoman declined to comment on the new venture with Claiborne and Taylor.
Taylor is the latest celebrity to put her name on apparel. In February, Christy Turlington said she was helping Puma design a yoga-inspired sportswear line called Nuala, to be distributed in six stores in the U.S. beginning in July.
Emme, the full-figured model, Revlon spokeswoman and host of E’s “Fashion Emergency” penned a licensing deal to develop a signature better-priced large-size collection with Kellwood Co.’s Ivy division. The collection is expected to generate a wholesale volume of $70 million within the next couple of years.
Of course, there are such staple celebrity brands as Kmart’s Kathy Ireland and Jaclyn Smith, which last year produced $300 million dollars in volume, not to mention the Wal-Mart/Kathie Lee licensing pact, which generated some $600 million in 1999.
Claiborne’s Roy declined to discuss the specific financial arrangements of the agreement with Taylor, only saying that it is a “long-term contract.”
For the fall ad campaign, Claiborne is using three models — Sarah Thomas, Kiara and Claudia Schiffer. Roy said that the company has not yet decided whether to employ a long-term signature model for the Liz brand.
Taylor was on vacation, and could not be reached for comment. However, a statement from the model said: “My line will fill a void for many young working mothers — women who want to look good, feel comfortable and need versatile clothing that can go from day to night.”
Reflecting the company’s Special Markets’ top-tier merchandising approach, the Niki Taylor collection will be positioned at the top layer of Target’s merchandise. Items will retail for under $30, Roy said.
As for Taylor’s actual involvement with the design of the line, Roy said: “We have a design, merchandising and sourcing team that will meet all our target objectives, but we embrace Niki’s opinion.”
She added that Taylor will provide input on fabrics and will make in-store appearances to promote the line.
“She will be an active part of the marketing campaign,” Roy said.
Claiborne does not plan to do a special print advertising campaign for the label, but will be hooking up with Target to develop in-store advertising.
Wall Street analysts and fashion consultants offered kudos to Claiborne’s new venture.
“Claiborne has been so aggressively looking for business opportunities outside of the department store,” said Josephine Esquivel, an analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. “Paul Charron has been pleased with Niki’s appeal. Target is a major opportunity. It should be a target for other companies, as well.”
“I think it will be very successful,” said Kurt Barnard, publisher of the Barnard Marketing Report. “Target has a lavish place in the sun and a lot of vendors are lusting for tremendous volume. Niki also has a very appealing image.”
Candace Corlett, a partner at WSL Strategic Retail, said: “We are seeing a Target grand plan. This name will lend the store tremendous cachet. As for Claiborne, what a smart way to have growth, without risking image to the core brand.”
Corlett, however, worried that there may be an oversaturation of celebrities getting into apparel.
“I would hate to see what happened to the fragrance industry happen to apparel,” she said, referring to a barrage of celebrities moving into fragrance over the past five to 10 years. “There were so many divas.”