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fashion-features

Serenity Now

Last fall, Narciso Rodriguez was faced with a daunting reality. Despite having earned his status within New York's fashion establishment over the past decade, Rodriguez was struggling to make ends meet. There wasn't much money to buy the fabrics...

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Claiborne chief executive officer William L. McComb concurs that LCI has been providing attention to critical areas for business integration, from ensuring a smooth manufacturing transition from Aeffe to helping the designer build his team, securing the space needed for the increasing staff and laying out a growth strategy for such new categories as accessories. But the executive maintains that the conglomerate has kept an otherwise hands-off approach, particularly when it comes to design matters.

"We're doing it without suffocating the magic of a still small and growing top-of the- pyramid atelier," McComb says. "A lot of what we have been doing is financial and business strategy and operational planning, and we are leaving a lot of independence to Narciso. This is a different kind of business than the businesses we have here."

Rodriguez agrees, although he is searching for a new president now that Janice Sullivan's time is winding down. She was given the title in June, but continued to oversee projects at Claiborne, and Rodriguez hopes to find someone who can focus exclusively on his brand. Some could interpret this change as an early glitch in the partnership, but McComb denied any such notions.

"The business needed some immediate help, it needed some planning, it needed a major connection between the front end and the back end of the business and it needed a bright, strategic person to serve as the link between the machinery here at Liz Claiborne and the atelier down at Union Square," McComb explains. "When we made that appointment for Janice, she also had responsibilities here, working for David McTague [executive vice president of LCI's new partnered brands division]. She spent 50 percent of her time here and 50 percent of her time there."

According to McComb, Sullivan continues to play a "transition role," and is working with Rodriguez on three projects, while leading brand-development efforts in the partnered brands division.

"We are still working out the detail of the strategic plan-investment levels, categories," says McComb. "We are not looking at this as a race, but as a business that at least has that potential. Within five years would be the aspiration, with that caveat."
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