By and  on June 19, 2008

The Talbots Inc. on Wednesday named Avra Myers senior vice president and general merchandise manager of J. Jill, a new position, effective July 9.

J. Jill has been trying to make its clothing less dowdy by adding youthful items such as slim-fit jeans. The division is also working to upgrade its quality, incorporating high-grade cashmeres into the mix.

Paula Bennett, president of J. Jill, said she streamlined the hierarchy by eliminating the position of executive vice president of merchandising held by David Dirienzo, who left in the last year. The job included responsibilities for design, product development and merchandising and two vice presidents reported to the executive vice president.

"I thought it would be better to hire someone into a merchandising role," Bennett said.

"We'll merchandise more by color story rather than putting all the new items together so the stores are easier to shop and easier to understand," she said.

Myers, who will report to Bennett, joined Limited Brands in 2006 after 21 years at Club Monaco, where her most recent post was vice president of merchandising and new business development. She was also a partner at Binksley Fine Woolens and worked in product development at Alfred Sung.

Since January 2007, Myers had been president and gmm of Limited Stores. A majority stake in Limited was sold to an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners last July.

During the first quarter ended May 3, same-store sales at J. Jill declined 20.2 percent versus a 7.4 percent dip at Talbots. Net sales at the division fell to $71 million from $81 million in the comparable 2007 quarter.

Talbots, which purchased J. Jill in 2006 for $517 million, has been struggling with deteriorating profits and depressed stock price. The turnaround of J. Jill has been tougher than Talbots' expected, adding debt to the retailer.

Myers has had experience with turnaround situations. She spearheaded the effort to redefine Limited Stores, from the design concept to the store experience.

"I hope we'll be more fully into accessories, handbags, jewelry, scarves and belts, that relate back to our clothes," Bennett said. "Without a head of merchandising, we haven't been focusing so much on those businesses and how they can really enhance the apparel that we sell."

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