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Claiborne Plans Line of Furniture

The clothing designer takes aim at Martha Stewart and other rivals with home products set to debut in September.

March 15, 2004|From Reuters

NEW YORK — Sofas, love seats and armoires are joining sweaters, slacks and blouses under the Liz Claiborne brand, as the clothing designer guns for big-name rivals including Martha Stewart with a planned September launch of a full furniture line.

Liz Claiborne last year signed an agreement with home furnisher Lexington Home Brands for 140 furniture items. Liz Claiborne Home products already offers floor coverings and bed and bath merchandise, and last month hired Blockwares to design and manufacture home organizing products.

"This is an opportunity to replace Martha Stewart," said Barbara Friedman, president of licensing for New York-based Liz Claiborne Inc. Stewart, the lifestyle trendsetter, was convicted last week of lying about a stock trade, and rivals are taking aim at her media and household goods company Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Friedman said Liz Claiborne would also be "taking floor space from other celebrity-oriented furniture brands." The company has its sights on the Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart furniture collections made by Thomasville Furniture, a unit of Furniture Brands International Inc.

Joel Havard, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets, said Liz Claiborne could find it hard to take share from Thomasville. He said the Hemingway collection was among the most successful furniture lines in history.

"A desirable product is only the first step. Liz Claiborne still has to convince retailers to commit to that floor space. And that's a fight they face every six months," Havard said.

Liz furniture in April will get 8,000 square feet of floor space from Lexington at the International Home Furnishings Market in High Point, N.C., a major furniture exhibition.

Liz Claiborne sofas will sell for as much as $1,800, and beds and dining room tables will go for as much as $1,600. The company will also offer wicker chairs, love seats and lamp tables.

Liz Claiborne plans to bring its furniture line to independent U.S. retailers and regional chains in September. The company said it hoped to do business with Federated Department Stores Inc., which operates Macy's and Bloomingdale's.

Friedman said Liz Claiborne looked to its apparel customers -- women ages 30 to 50 -- when it refocused its home strategy three years ago.

"We found that the consumer who associates with our brand is highly engaged in the home," Friedman said. "She kept telling us she would choose our brand for household products."

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