By  on September 16, 2005

NEW YORK — Talk about a letdown.

Several hours before the scheduled press conference at the New York Public Library about the blockbuster liaison between Angelina Jolie and St. John, the company canceled the event, later issuing a two-page press release about the new deal.

In the morning, Richard Cohen, chief executive officer of St. John, put out a short statement saying, "After a great deal of consideration, we have decided to cancel our press conference. The sheer volume of requests to attend makes it impossible for us to announce this in a restrained, intelligent way."

St. John officials were said to be concerned the press conference was going to turn into a media circus since many news outlets who were told they wouldn't be let in planned to crash it anyway.

In the afternoon, St. John issued another press release confirming the Jolie deal. An impending agreement between the actress and the fashion company was first reported by WWD on Tuesday.

The deal is expected to position the Oscar-winning actress as both the face of St. John the brand and the voice behind its newly formed charity created in support of children's issues and causes.

Known for her edginess and unorthodox personality, Jolie is a provocative choice for the brand, which has built its 40-year reputation on dressing the Ladies Who Lunch. The company has repeatedly said it wants to attract a younger and wider customer base, and this is apparently being viewed as a significant step in that direction.

The company declined comment on the terms of her contract, but sources said Jolie could receive as much as $12 million for her modeling work for St. John over the next several years, that she's expected to reap a percentage of the revenues and that she would join St. John's board.

Getting St. John on the red carpet has been a goal of the brand for many years, but sources indicated she probably won't have to wear St. John exclusively.

Cohen, who had flown in for the press conference Wednesday afternoon and was flying back to California on Thursday, couldn't be reached for comment. In a statement, he said, "Angelina Jolie embodies so many qualities of what St. John represents. She is strong, independent and dynamic. She's a mother, actress and a philanthropist. With this partnership, we hope to mark another exciting step toward making St. John the ultimate American luxury brand."Since joining St. John as ceo in August 2004, Cohen has ushered in significant changes at the firm, from switching key executives to hiring its first outside ad agency to revamp its long-formulaic advertising campaign. The moves are aimed at reversing the company's shrinking profits while positioning St. John as an American luxury house. In a major shake-up at the firm this past July, both Marie Gray, co-founder and designer, and Kelly Gray, creative director, abruptly resigned the same day, to the surprise of their staff. Since January, Tim Gardner has been a consultant to the design team. The company expects to name a successor to Marie Gray soon.

Although St. John's sales increased 7 percent to $395.6 million in fiscal 2004 from the previous year, profits dropped to $13.4 million. That is 10 percent less than in 2003 and 44 percent lower than 2000's profits.

St. John's new ad campaign with Jolie, to be launched in spring 2006 magazines, will be photographed by Mario Testino. David Lipman, creative director of the Lipman agency, along with Cohen, are collaborating on St. John's repositioning in the luxury brand market. Similar to the fall campaign featuring Gisele Bündchen and also shot by Testino, the spring ads will take inspiration from the company's native California and will evoke Hollywood glamour. For more than two decades, St. John's ads featured Kelly Gray in far-flung locations surrounded by a constant cadre of men.

Lipman was aided by Starworks, a talent agency here, in securing Jolie, who is represented by CAA.

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