Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK--In a major executive coup, The Limited Inc. has recruited Marie Holman-Rao, president of Banana Republic, to head up a new unit that will provide design support for all Limited apparel divisions, WWD learned Monday.
The new unit, Limited Design Services Inc., is expected to be up and running in New York around Labor Day. Holman-Rao will be its president, and will report directly to Leslie Wexner, chairman and chief executive officer of Limited Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio.
Holman-Rao is considered the number-two executive at Banana Republic, reporting to Jeanne Jackson, the chief executive officer. She is based in Banana Republic's New York design offices. She joined the chain in 1993 as vice president of product development, rose to senior vice president, and became president just last month.
Prior to Banana Republic, she held key posts at Ann Taylor, Adrienne Vittadini, Perry Ellis, May Co. and Macy's. She was not available for comment Monday.
"She's a terrific product person," said one source.
A spokesman for Banana Republic, a division of Gap Inc., said no successor to Holman-Rao will be named, and that Jerome Jessup, senior vice president of design, will handle her responsibilities.
It's rare for leading Gap executives to defect to the competition. Gap has a reputation for heavily compensating its top merchants, who are said to typically earn $300,000 to $450,000, in base pay, but receive much more through restricted stock packages, options and incentives.
However, The Limited has been on a drive to add design talent for several seasons, primarily to strengthen its women's divisions, which include Express, Limited, Lane Bryant, Lerner New York, Henri Bendel, Structure and Limited, Too.
The divisions have separate design teams.
The corporation also owns about 83 percent of Intimate Brands Inc., which operates Victoria's Secret Stores and Catalogue, Bath & Body Works and Cacique, and 84 percent of Abercrombie & Fitch.

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