This look at Liz Claiborne's horrid first quarter is actually a great overview of the department store world in general: "in recent months department stores, including Macy's and Dillard's, have been putting more demands on apparel makers for increased profitability while at the same time dramatically stepping up their own store label offerings at the expense of their suppliers' brands....private-label brands at Macy's already exceed 80 percent of its sales."
Even those label-store partnerships can be tricky: "a factor behind Macy's cutting back the company's Liz Claiborne brand was its exclusive deal with J.C. Penney Co. for a moderate-price line." Everyone celebrates Target -- because those designers are young! and successful! -- but J.C. Penney has its own share of celebrity labels -- less young maybe -- which manage to sell really, really well.
And I think that means that no department store can go all private label. Like J.C. Penney, they need the mix of big labels, new names and their own lines to stay successful, because it's the mix that allows them to change with the times. Whereas if you're Gap, you're stuck.
All of which brings me back to Tim Gunn's new job at Liz Claiborne. His arrival seems perfectly timed to help right that ship. I hope he does it. And, aw, look: they love him already.