By  on March 30, 2005

NEW YORK — Abercrombie & Fitch has a new Ruehl-er.

He’s Mark Breitbard, currently senior vice president of merchandising overseeing GapKids and babyGap, who will join A&F’s emerging Ruehl division this month as senior vice president and general manager. “He’ll be the top guy at Ruehl,” said one source.

A&F declined to comment on the report. However, Gap Inc. confirmed that Breitbard’s last day at the company is Friday.

Breitbard will report to Michael Jeffries, chairman and chief executive officer of Abercrombie & Fitch and the driving force behind the Ruehl division. Ruehl, which began opening stores last year, is geared to appeal to women and men ages 22 to 30, with a more subdued and seductive setting and higher prices compared with the high-energy, sexually charged Abercrombie & Fitch. However, Ruehl, like A&F also, is anchored in casual sportswear and sells lots of denim.

Breitbard replaces Carole Kerner, Ruehl’s former senior vice president and general merchandise manager, who joined Donna Karan International last week as president of the Donna Karan New York collection. Recently, Chad Kessler, who headed up and began Hollister in 2000, shifted to Ruehl as vice president of merchandising for women’s and men’s.

Breitbard had a successful eight-year run at Gap, where at one time he was a special assistant to then-ceo Mickey Drexler. He also once served as head of men’s merchandising at the Banana Republic division.

Breitbard’s departure puts Gap in another executive hole. The company actively has been trying to find a new head for its Gap brand division, and reportedly came close to announcing that the job was filled, but the candidate chose against taking the job at the last minute.

The last person to run the Gap brand was Gary Muto. In September, Muto became president of Gap’s yet-to-be-revealed women’s apparel concept targeting customers 35 and older.

Ruehl operates four stores, in the International Plaza in Tampa, Fla.; the Woodfield Mall in Chicago; Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., and the Twelve Oaks mall in Detroit. It plans to open its fifth store, in Columbus, Ohio, in April. Other Ruehl sites are expected in the Washington metro area and in Denver, and a total of 10 are seen operating by the end of the year.A&F’s shares rose 2 percent, or $1.10, to $55.95 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday after Prudential analyst Stacy Pak boosted the stock’s investment rating on expectations of better-than-planned monthly sales. “We are upgrading our opinion on Abercrombie & Fitch from underweight to neutral weight….Comps in the teen-young adult sector have continued to be pretty good, A&F’s comps and leverage will be better than we anticipated, and SG&A, exclusive of store expenses and [bonuses], will likely grow with square footage,” Pak wrote in her report. “We are raising our 2005 estimate from $2.76 to $3.05 and our 2006 estimate from $3.05 to $3.50 and raising our price target to $54 from $45.”

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