Liz Claiborne label has loyal followers

June 05, 1991|By Woody Hochswender | Woody Hochswender,N.Y. Times News Service nHC XTB

There is an ongoing dialectic between fashion that takes risks and fashion that simply gives women what they want. Designers who follow their own lights, and not the skirts of the American women, are bound to stumble commercially here and there. The highly successful Liz Claiborne company takes the opposite approach, as was clear from its resort collection, shown Friday.

More than 200 styles were paraded down the runway in an epic presentation that delighted the retailers but could weigh heavily on the eyelids of a regular person. It was like being trapped in a department store.

As the program notes for the show put it: "Simple, straightforward fashion that's designed for women who have more important things to think about than what to wear. No gimmicks. No surprises."

There were sporty winter whites, stretch stirrup pants and a seemingly inexhaustible array of long jackets, worn over just-above-the-knee pleated skirts. Lots of pants, lots of shorts. For evening, it was mostly black, with lots of jeweled sweaters and tuxedos. Nothing terribly fashionable, but everything of the moment.

Liz Claiborne has become the largest seller of women's fashions in America partly by taking the risk out of fashion. The company researches its customer, conducting focus groups and using 150 specialists to get feedback from retailers.

"This is about reality, not fashion," said Jessica Mitchell, the design director of Liz Claiborne, who travels around the country meeting with consumers. "Most of the companies in the market are out of touch with the people."

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A sign, or scent, of the times: the introduction of Recession, an "owe de cologne, poor hombre." This Recession is made by Topical Products. The box says, "The economy stinks. You shouldn't have to." At $15.95, this is more than a joke.

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