NEW YORK — Jerome Jessup has been named senior executive vice president for merchandise and design at Ann Taylor Stores. The announcement Wednesday confirmed a WWD report that day about Jessup joining Ann Taylor.

Jessup becomes the highest-ranking executive at the Ann Taylor Stores division of Ann Taylor Stores Corp. Previously, Ann Taylor said it would name a president for the division to replace Kim Roy, who left in January. Ann Taylor executives couldn’t be reached for comment on whether, with Jessup on board, they still are seeking a president for the division. But it appears that one won’t be named, at least for now, and that Jessup could ultimately wind up with the title if all goes well in his new post.

But it won’t be an easy turnaround. Ann Taylor is known for selling classics, with some updating, suits and coordinated looks. The division has been floundering for years because of recent management turnover and changing merchandise directions resulting in the loss of its core career customer. In addition, the chain has suffered because the career market has been weakened by America’s casualization, although the Ann Taylor brand still has cachet.

Jessup will be getting plenty of backup from the corporation’s central organization. Aside from reporting to chairman J. Patrick Spainhour, who is said to maintain tight control over his executives and the decision making, Jessup will be supported by Barry Erdos, chief operating officer, and Melissa La Bau, executive vice president of retail operations.

Spainhour also noted that with the company’s Ann Taylor Loft division running strong, Loft president Kay Krill "will play an integral role in helping Jerome apply his product and creative talents to the Ann Taylor division." In his statement, Spainhour added: "Loft continues to deliver upon its expectations and we are confident in Kay Krill’s ability to take the Loft division to the next level." Total sales for the corporation came to $1.4 billion last year.

Jessup joins Ann Taylor from Gap Inc., where he was executive vice president of product development and design for Gap, GapKids, babyGap and Body. Prior to that, he was responsible for product development and design at the company’s Banana Republic division. Before joining Gap in 1993, Jessup was design director at Liz Claiborne and Adrienne Vittadini and a designer at Perry Ellis and Carmelo Pomodoro."Jerome’s extensive product and brand management experience will help us achieve greater consistency and excitement at Ann Taylor Stores," Spainhour said. "As a critical member of the senior management team, he will intensify our client focus to assure we meet our clients’ expectations season after season." Market sources said Jessup is likely to command a salary in the range of $600,000, while at Gap, his total compensation, including salary and bonus, is said to have topped the million-dollar mark.

At one point, Krill was being considered to head Ann Taylor Stores, in addition to running Loft. Sources said she declined to split her role. At the 185-unit Loft, however, Krill has a team that’s been in place longer than that at Ann Taylor, where most of the turnover has occurred, so communications and relationships are established.

Spainhour has been running the 350-unit Ann Taylor Stores since Roy left.

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