By  on October 11, 2006

St. John announced Tuesday that its one-time co-president and chief operating officer, Bruce Fetter, who departed the $400 million apparel firm in March 2005, is returning to those roles.

The move comes as interim chief executive officer Philip Miller seeks to rebuild the executive team of the Irvine, Calif.-based company after the departure in April of ceo Richard Cohen. Fetter's appointment is effective Nov. 1.

"We are thrilled to have an executive of Mr. Fetter's expertise," Miller said in a statement. "His understanding of St. John's operational, structural and financial functions, as well the unique connection between St. John and our customers, makes him unequivocally the best person for this job."

Fetter first joined St. John in 1997 as chief operating officer. In 2001, Fetter and Kelly Gray, daughter of St. John founders Robert and Marie Gray, served as co-presidents after Robert Gray stepped down. Their reign ended when Cohen was named president and ceo in 2004 with the mission of guiding the overall corporate strategy of the women's luxury business and taking the brand global. Kelly Gray stepped down as creative director three months after Fetter's exit.

Cohen's tenure was marked by a radical change in the product, sliding sales and the departure of many employees. He also replaced Kelly Gray as the face of the company, first with supermodel Gisele Bündchen, and next with Angelina Jolie.

Miller has been vocal about hiring people who understand the brand and its history. The company has been without a creative director since Tim Gardner left in July, and Marie Gray has been consulting with what remains of the design team. Gardner's former number two, Maria D. Lopez, is said to be back at the company.

Fetter will report directly to Miller as St. John's board searches for a new ceo. Upon joining the executive committee, Fetter also will be elected to the board.

The 44-year-old company sells in 28 countries, operates 29 freestanding retail boutiques and employs 4,000 people.

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