Isaac Mizrahi Leaves Target to Revamp Liz Claiborne
Isaac Mizrahi, the cheap-chic designer who helped create the image of Target as a style destination, defected from the retailer on Tuesday to a more ambitious, and lucrative, role of making over the struggling Liz Claiborne label.
The end of his five-year run at Target is a blow to a retailer that has based its entire business on creating a safe home for celebrity designers to reach a broader and less-affluent audience. Mr. Mizrahi’s collection sold as much as $300 million each year, and it will be a challenge for Target to find a replacement as well known to consumers.
Claiborne, which has been losing market share in department stores like Macy’s for several years, hopes to revive its image with high-profile hires like Mr. Mizrahi, who was named creative director of the brand one day after the company announced that John Bartlett would design its men’s wear.
Minutes later, Target said it would end its relationship with Mr. Mizrahi at the end of the year, just before his clothes for Claiborne will appear in stores.
Target fought hard to keep Mr. Mizrahi, whose contract was up for renewal this year, but the company was unwilling to match Claiborne’s offer, according to executives who were forbidden to speak publicly about the negotiations. Because Liz Claiborne is carried by Target’s mainstream competitors, like Macy’s and Dillard’s, Mr. Mizrahi’s contract with Claiborne created an obvious conflict.
“We wish him the best, ” Susan Giesen, a Target spokeswoman, said.
His success inspired other high-end designers like Vera Wang to break an industry taboo by simultaneously designing for luxury and mass consumers.
The timing could hardly be worse for Target. Same-store sales — sales at stores open at least a year — fell 5 percent in December, and its chief executive, Robert J. Ulrich, has just said he was stepping down.
Bill McComb, the chief executive of Liz Claiborne, said the company had been inundated with customer letters after Ms. Claiborne died in June, asking what would happen to the label.
“We’ve been disappointed with the performance of the line for several seasons running,” Mr. McComb said. “The results have called out that a strategy change is needed.”
Dave McTague, an executive vice president for Claiborne, said he approached Mr. Mizrahi because the company was looking for a designer with star appeal.
“It had to be someone who was a complete icon beyond designing apparel,” Mr. McTague said.