Star Power Is Not (Yet) Enough To Make Liz Claiborne Stylish

Does anyone buy Liz Claiborne? In December 2006, following years of financial troubles, the company brought on William McComb, a swaggering CEO who knew nothing about the fashion industry but soon realized that a little makeover out of the pages of Management 101 were not going to be enough to revive the struggling brand. McComb's secret weapon, of course, was Project Runway's Tim Gunn, whom he hired as the brand's chief creative officer in March 2007. As the April issue of Fast Company reports, McComb loved Gunn's work in both reality TV and in academia and figured that if Gunn could salvage a paralyzed fashion design program and help create a hit show, surely he could figure out how to make women buy basics from Liz Claiborne again. Or not!

Just this past February, the company's stock fell 18% in a day, proving that Gunn's name was not enough to translate into action at the cash register. Even Gunn's attempts to up the company's fame factor — Isaac Mizrahi was hired to be creative director of the Claiborne womenswear line and John Bartlett hired to oversee menswear soon afterwards — haven't helped. (Sure, the day Mizrahi's new role at the company was announced the company's stock was up 25%, but "much of that evaporated within a few weeks.") It remains unclear on how this acquisition, helmed by Gunn, has done anything to get Claiborne out of the red and into the realm wildly popular. Says Gunn: "I honestly think that in the not-too-distant future, this company will establish new paradigms of operations, the likes of which I don't think this industry has ever seen. I think we're going to be a Harvard Business School case study." Sorry, Tim: I'm a major fan, and I know that your new starpower designers' stuff won't be seen until next spring, but I remain unsold on your products and verbiage, both.

Project Rehab [Fast Money]

Earlier: How Tim Gunn Is Connected To J. Edgar Hoover, And Other Surprises About Project Runway's Favorite Father-Hen