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Warnaco Names Intimate Execs

Warnaco named two key executive posts in its intimate apparel unit and has embarked on a line of high-tech performance underwear.

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Martha Olson Helen McCluskey and Barbara Lipton

Martha Olson, Helen McCluskey and Barbara Lipton.

Photo By John Aquino

NEW YORK — The Warnaco Group Inc. made two high-level executive appointments Monday in an effort to shore up its $573 million intimate apparel division — and turned again to Liz Claiborne for one of them.

Martha Olson, 49, has been appointed president of the newly formed core brands unit, and former Liz Claiborne executive Barbara Lipton, 47, has been named vice president and general manager of the new fashion brands businesses.

Olson will oversee the branded Olga, Warner’s and Body Nancy Ganz bra and shapewear businesses, and Lipton will head the JLo Lingerie by Jennifer Lopez, Lejaby and newly launched Lejaby Rose foundations, as well as the Fastskin by Speedo underwear businesses.

Both Olson and Lipton report to Helen McCluskey, 49, group president of Warnaco’s intimate apparel businesses. McCluskey joined Warnaco in June after serving for three years as president of the Special Markets Group of Liz Claiborne Inc. as well as stints at Playtex Apparel and Sara Lee.

The appointment of Lipton marks the second time in less than a year that Warnaco has poached Liz Claiborne’s inner circle of executives. Lipton, a 20-year retail veteran and former vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel, hosiery and fashion jewelry at Saks Fifth Avenue, joined the Claiborne firm last February as vice president and general merchandise manager of Liz Claiborne Modern Accessories, which includes the Juicy Couture, Ellen Tracy and Sigrid Olsen brands. She was promoted to vice president and general manager of Claiborne’s Special Markets Accessories division in October. A successor has not been named, said a spokeswoman at the Claiborne company.

Olson, whose background includes marketing well-known consumer packaged brands such as Cheerios and Betty Crocker, had formerly worked with McCluskey at Sara Lee Corp., when Olson joined the Playtex Apparel division in 1992, and later the licensed Ralph Lauren Intimates at Sara Lee, which was discontinued in late 2003. Olson was most recently a division manager of Edison Schools, a private company that manages public schools.

“This [the executive appointments] is Helen’s input on Warnaco’s intimate apparel business. We are delighted in her selections, and we are confident we’ll see business becoming more positive and more profitable,” said Joseph R. Gromek, Warnaco’s president and chief executive officer.
Intimates is one of the key apparel categories Gromek is keen on improving. Sales in the intimate apparel division fell to $573 million last year from $614 million in 2002. Among the initiatives the company has recently undertaken are launching Lejaby Rose, a secondary foundations label with a young, feminine look, and the licensed JLo Lingerie by Jennifer Lopez collection of updated, girly lingerie.

McCluskey has been challenged with the repositioning of Warner’s two mature brands, Olga and Warner’s, which in fiscal 2003 generated $180 million in combined wholesale revenues, down from $250 million the prior year

These two appointments follow the departure of Jeanette Cantone from Warnaco, where she was vice president of merchandising for the JLo Lingerie by Jennifer Lopez and Olga brands for the past year. On Monday, Cantone was named senior vice president of Lingerie Projects for Limited Design Services, a unit of Limited Brands. In her new post, Cantone will manage the design, merchandising and manufacturing of lingerie lines such as Pink and the Victoria’s Secret Casual Sleepwear collection. She reports to Wendi Goldman, executive vice president of design. A successor has not been named at Warnaco.

In other developments, Warnaco plans to embark on an ambitious new line of business by incorporating the high-tech performance applications of the Fastskin FSII swimwear by Speedo into a line of underwear for men and women.

Olympic gold medal champion Michael Phelps, who signed an endorsement contract with Speedo last year, is being considered as the model for Warnaco’s multimillion dollar marketing and advertising campaign for the state-of-the-art underwear collection, said McCluskey. The Fastskin by Speedo underwear will be targeted to major department stores as well as sporting goods outlets nationwide, and could be cross-marketed with the Fastskin FSII by Speedo swimwear, which is part of Warnaco’s Swimwear Division.

“We are looking to build on the technology and performance of Speedo swimwear and translate that to men’s and women’s underwear,” said McCluskey. She said the new underwear would focus on three areas: High performance, active athlete and active-inspired lifestyle items in “exciting fabrics.” The Fastskin men’s line will be be shipped to stores in late May, and the women’s underwear will be launched next fall.