As the newly-tapped creative director for the Claiborne brand, Mizrahi, one of fashion's more ebullient and popular personalities, will oversee design and marketing for the brand's women's apparel, accessories and licensing businesses. His first collection under the Liz Claiborne label is slated to debut in spring 2009.
"[We] believe that [Mizrahi's] innovative design sense and widespread appeal will breathe new life into the Liz Claiborne brand," said Liz CEO William McComb, in a statement. "It is certainly no secret that the brand has been lacking a clear and cohesive vision and has languished as a result. With this appointment, we are taking a major step towards our goal of creating irresistible product that will provide today's discerning woman with a compelling reason to buy."
While no financials of the deal were disclosed, Mizrahi's own statement seems to betray, if not a fairly lucrative deal, then at least boosted branding opportunities for the designer who pioneered the high/low design ethos when he signed on to produce a women's collection for Target in 2003, paving the way for many others who followed in succession, including Karl Lagerfeld (in 2004, with a capsule collection for H&M), and most recently, Vera Wang (in 2007, with her Very Vera collection for Kohl's). For more on those partnerships, and their impact in the industry, please see my previous article, "Split Personality," here.
"I'm honored to have the opportunity to build on this fantastic legacy and excited to reestablish the label as a must have," Mizrahi said, in a statement. "And as excited as I am about developing Liz Claiborne, the collaboration also affords fantastic opportunities for growth in my own brand."
Aside from the forthcoming collection for Liz Claiborne, Mizrahi will also bow his new web-based series, "Watch Isaac," in February at WatchIsaac.com. His collections for Target will continue to be sold through the mass-retailer throughout 2008.
However, we have to say that the move seems a risky one, given several factors. First, Isaac had a pretty successful collection at Target, reportedly garnering annual sales of $300 million. Why shirk that to head over to Liz Claiborne, which posted 65% dip in third quarter net income on a 4% sales drop? And yet, it's not like things are all milk and honey over at Target, which posted a sales gain of only 0.1% (at $9.26 billion) for the month of December. Then again, it's important to remember that Mizrahi is no stranger to ups and downs himself, and that the deal he inked with Target back in 2003 can be credited, at least in large part, to revamping what was then an ailing name brand.
What the move means for Liz, and its impact on Target's business, remain to be seen.
"It can't hurt Liz Claiborne...but the issues there are more than one individual can conquer. Bringing the brand back to its heyday will require a lot more than just a new design concept or featuring a household name on the brand's marquee; it will have to be a major shift in management, merchandising, marketing and advertising and ," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y. "As for Target, they've shown that they understand the consumers' desire and the need to constantly revolve their brands. Will they miss Isaac? Probably. But they'll find something to replace [him]."
Cohen also suggested that Mizrahi might have some growing pains to contend with in his new post.
"He was an island unto himself at Target; all of those other brands paled in comparison to his work, and he was treated as the prized jewel in that environment, " Cohen said. "In the mall environment [where Claiborne is], he'll be up against hundreds of other brands, where he's no longer the shining star by default."
The news of Mizrahi's switch comes following the appointment, earlier this week, of John Bartlett as Claiborne's new men's sportswear designer.
On a lighter note, if you're unfamiliar with Mizrahi or if you feel you need a refresher course on why this guy seems to be such a hot commodity for these mass merchants, check out "Unzipped," the 1995 documentary that took Isaac as its subject, with all his quirky humor and non sequitur dialog to go along the way.
One of our favorite lines: "All I want to do is fur pants, but I know, like if I do them, I will be stoned off of Seventh Avenue, like some wanton heretic or something. So there won't be any fur pants coming down my runway. It's about women not wanting to look like cows or something."