By  on March 10, 2005

LOS ANGELES — St. John Knits International said chief operating officer Bruce Fetter has resigned after eight years with the Irvine, Calif.-based manufacturer of women’s apparel and accessories.

Fetter’s departure comes as the company’s new chief executive officer, Richard Cohen, who was named last year, builds his own team. Fetter and Kelly Gray, the daughter of St. John founders Bob and Marie Gray, had shared the ceo title starting in November 2002.

In a written statement, Fetter said, he was “very fortunate” to work at St. John Knits. “I wish all of the St. John employees the best as they help move the company to new levels of success.”

Neither Fetter, who will stay on until March 31 in a special projects capacity, nor Cohen could be reached for comment.

St. John Knits this month reported that income for the fiscal year ended Oct. 31, fell to $13.4 million, or $2.11 a diluted share, from $14.9 million, or $2.23, in the same year-ago period. Sales climbed to $395.6 million from $370.1 million.

The company decided during fiscal 2004 to discontinue the sale of shoes, jewelry, accessories and home products to its wholesale customers because of lower-than-expected profit margins. The goods continue to be sold in company-owned boutiques and outlet stores.

St. John has plunged into swimwear in a licensing deal with RAJ Manufacturing in Tustin, Calif., and revamped its advertising strategy by signing an outside advertising agency, New York-based David Lipman. The company’s fall campaign is said to include a celebrity in place of Kelly Gray, a fixture in the ads for the past 22 years.

Cohen had been ceo of Ermenegildo Zegna’s U.S. operations for 16 years. In January, he made three top-level appointments: Robert Green as executive vice president, sales and marketing; Max Weinstein, executive vice president, operations, and Elfriede Campbell, executive vice president, human resources.

The Gray family sold a majority of St. John to Vestar Capital for $520 million in 1999, when the company was taken private, but retains a minority stake.

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