By  on April 2, 2007

St. John is making a shift at the top as it seeks a permanent chief executive officer.

The $400 million company has appointed chief operating officer Bruce Fetter to also serve as interim ceo. He replaces Philip Miller, who has been interim ceo since April 2006.

Fetter, along with Marie Gray, co-founder and head designer of St. John, returned to the company in the last six months, along with designer Maria D. Lopez and Kelly Gray, former creative director and co-president with Fetter.

That team departed after Richard Cohen was named ceo in 2004. Part of Cohen's strategy was to entice younger customers to St. John, but it fell short of expectations. Many of the newer styles met resistance from the brand's loyal and mature customers.

"Bruce has a deep understanding of all aspects of our business at St. John," chairman Jim Kelley, who also is president of Vestar Capital Partners, the brand's owner, said in a statement. "He has the confidence of the board of directors and entire management team to assume this critical leadership role."

Fetter will report directly to Kelley while the board, which includes Marie Gray, continues to search for a permanent ceo.

Neither Fetter nor Kelley was available for comment.

Fetter, who is also a board member, first joined the company in 1997 as vice president of distribution and became co-president with Kelly Gray, the daughter of St. John founders Marie and Bob Gray. Fetter was chief operating officer when he left the company in March 2005. He rejoined St. John in October.

The New York-based Miller has been commuting to St. John headquarters in Irvine, Calif. He remains "a key adviser to our management team and a member of our board of directors," Kelley said in the statement.

Miller was instrumental in bringing back Fetter and making Lopez vice president of design after Cohen and former creative director Tim Gardner left the company.

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