To understand why beleaguered fashion companies like Liz Claiborne Inc. are scrambling to re-engineer their product lines, head for the second floor of Bloomingdale's flagship store in New York, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The space displays some of the store's swiftest-selling, if relatively unknown, labels. Hanging on racks flanked by mod lounge chairs and vintage-style chandeliers are $160 plaid cotton Joie shorts and $407 beaded tunics bearing the label Ya-Ya.

The items, and their high price tags, are part of a burgeoning category of women's clothing known as contemporary -- a somewhat amorphously defined assortment that includes edgy, often casual looks such as snug-fitting T-shirts, distressed denim and relaxed, feminine cotton dresses.

Amid intense competition for female apparel shoppers, this particular sector -- where garments often fetch about $100 to $500 apiece -- is one of retail's brightest spots. One big reason: Purveyors of these clothes are a breed unto themselves. Unlike famous ad-driven designers or mass, mall-based clothiers such as Gap Inc. or Abercrombie & Fitch Co., contemporary brands tend to be smaller, risk-taking labels. Their limited distribution and of-the-moment silhouettes are increasingly appealing to a broad cross-section of fashion-forward women, including hordes of celebrities.

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