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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The firm will introduce women’s for spring and follow that up in the fall with a relaunch of the women’s fragrance and the addition of nonapparel classifications, such as handbags and jewelry, and, potentially, men’s wear. A men’s fragrance is set to launch in 2005. To further the brand’s lifestyle appeal, licenses for categories such as shoes, outerwear and eyewear also may be added.

A $1 billion brand, though, isn’t what Claiborne is shooting for.

Ahrendts and Sullivan said the company would prefer to have three our four midsize brands instead of one larger name so it can better differentiate its offerings for retailers and appeal to a wider swath of customers.

Differentiation has become a touchstone for the department store channel. Stores are looking to set themselves apart not only from the national chains, but increasingly from each other. This has pressured vendors to offer up a more varied product, be it lines with more limited distribution or a broader offering of the larger collections so retailers can pick and choose.

“We look at the better sector differently than anybody else that we are competing against,” said Sullivan. “We don’t look at it one-dimensionally. It’s not just a sector or a customer or a brand. We really look at the better sector in all of its segmentation possibilities.

“Having a portfolio of brands in that better segment allows each individual account to customize what their better offer’s going to be, depending on who their customers are and how they want to play the good, better, best in their stores.

“Our retailers have educated us tremendously on what are the kinds of brand attributes they need in their particular stores,” noted Sullivan. “They increasingly look at their stores as brands and they’re known by the company they keep.”

In addition to a good-better-best pricing strategy within the zone, Claiborne splits up its view of better sportswear into the realms of updated (as seen in Kenneth Cole New York, Reaction Kenneth Cole and City DKNY), classic-traditional (Liz Claiborne Collection and now Realities) and casual (Liz Claiborne Casual).

Claiborne expects to unveil two other new lines for spring. Intuitions, at lower-better price points, will be sold exclusively in Dillard’s Inc. stores. In the moderate realm, Claiborne also will offer Curve, which will include men’s and women’s offerings.
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