As Better Market Reenergizes, Liz Arrives With New Dimension

The turmoil in the better category is creating a new market reality, and next week, Liz Claiborne, moving to protect its turf, will launch its Realities line.

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NEW YORK — The turmoil in the better category is creating a new market reality — and Liz Claiborne Inc. has its very own version.

Claiborne is moving rapidly to protect its turf in its most important market with the launch next week of Realities, the fourth better line it has added in as many years. The line brings with it a familiar name — Realities was one of the firm’s most successful fragrances. It also heralds a new way for the vendor to conduct business that promises more flexibility and collaboration with retailers at a time when department stores are demanding greater product innovation and are stepping up their own private brand programs to get it.

“The product has to be brilliant,” said Angela Ahrendts, executive vice president of the firm. “That’s the price of entry. It has to fill a niche. It’s going to do that, but the [retail] ceo’s are just as interested in how we’re going to do it differently for them and that’s the new business model.”

Ahrendts and executive vice president Trudy Sullivan discussed Claiborne’s approach to the better market in an interview with WWD at the firm’s headquarters here last week. Together with chairman and chief executive Paul Charron, Sullivan and Ahrendts set the firm’s strategic direction.

While Realities has been in the works for some time, the transition of the Lauren by Ralph Lauren license from Jones Apparel Group to Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. in early June prompted Claiborne to move up the launch date to September from November and to go with a soft launch in the spring to, as Ahrendts noted, “take advantage of the market dynamics.”

The company’s better roots run deep. In addition to starting out in the zone, Claiborne now derives nearly half of its $3.72 billion in annual sales from products sold at better price points. By comparison, Jones derived 37.7 percent of its $4.34 billion in revenues last year from sales in the zone.

Key to the firm’s new approach is its flexibility. Claiborne is looking to work with retailers to make everything as easy as possible and to serve chains’ individual needs.
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