NEW YORK — Susan Dell is gearing up to make the transition to wholesale, but that move entails some operational changes that included letting go of much of her New York staff this week.

While Dell is based in Austin, Tex., where she maintains a signature boutique, her design studio is in New York and serves as headquarters for its new president, Julia Hansen, who joined the company four weeks ago. The six-year-old company has followed an unusual direct-to-consumer business model, selling Dell’s designs mostly through private trunk shows at specialty stores and through the Internet, but now the wife of Dell Computers founder Michael Dell is beginning to think bigger.

The company plans to relaunch in 2004 with a collection available for wholesale orders that could greatly expand Dell’s presence in upscale stores around the country. In order to gear the company for such a move, Hansen said, changes were required in the sample room, production and merchandising areas of the company. She would not disclose how many employees were let go, but sources said the number represented a majority of the designer’s back office function.

Separately, Hansen confirmed that designer Steven Slowik, who joined Dell after one season as creative director of Bill Blass in 2000, has left the company, although his departure was described as amicable. Slowik was working closely with Dell on design and is said to remain close friends with the designer.

“We have built a strong identity with this brand by going direct to consumer in the past,” Hansen said. “We feel there is opportunity for this collection with a strong consumer market. In order to address that opportunity, we decided to look at the strategy for the brand in 2004 and beyond. We’re going to revamp the look and relaunch the brand in 2004.”

Dell is continuing to sell spring merchandise and will deliver fall orders to customers without interruption, Hansen said, noting that the transition into a wholesale company also will require immediate steps to begin restaffing.

“We will be building the right foundation and building blocks,” she said. “Over the next six to eight months, we are looking to have the right skill sets here to put that in place.”Hansen was previously president and chief executive officer of Zoot Sports Inc., a triathlon apparel company based in San Francisco, where she worked for three years before joining Dell in April to replace Linda Beauchamp. Beauchamp resigned to open her own consulting business and continues to work with the designer.

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