LOS ANGELES — The Wet Seal Inc. isn’t taking its troubles lying down.

The struggling junior specialty chain on Wednesday named former Disney Store executive Allan Haims as president of its Wet Seal division. He succeeds Susan O’Toole, who assumes the new position of chief merchandising officer of the division.

The firm also named designer Victor Alfaro senior vice president and creative director of the Wet Seal division. He succeeds Lenny Parrella, who left the company last week for personal reasons.

The moves at the Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based women’s specialty chain represent the first gusts of change at the specialty retailer under the two-month tenure of chief executive officer Peter Whitford, the former president, worldwide, of Disney Store Inc.

“We think the new appointments will help us move forward and rebuild the business quickly,” he said.

At the 490-store flagship division, all Wet Seal store operations will now report directly to Haims rather than the chief administrative officer, “giving us an opportunity to streamline communications,” Whitford said.

Alfaro, who until last year operated his signature women’s line in partnership with Milan-based Gilmar Divisione Industria SpA, will be involved in product design and development. He’ll also lend influence to the stores’ visual presentation and marketing message.

At the company level, Joseph Deckop was tapped for the new post of executive vice president of central planning and allocation. Deckop most recently served as senior vice president of strategic systems and planning at the Disney Store.

Analysts said they’re still digesting the news of the management changes. More changes could be announced todayduring Wet Seal’s second-quarter conference call.

Liz Pierce, retail analyst at Sanders Morris Harris, called O’Toole’s new post a surprise. “I knew things weren’t perfect,” Pierce said. “They’re trying to fit the right people to the right thing and sometimes it’s not right on the first try.”

Pierce said Alfaro’s success will hinge on how he translates his styles to the juniors market. The designer’s influences will first be seen for spring and summer 2004, according to Whitford.Wet Seal’s company July same-store sales fell 12.3 percent, beating analysts’ estimates of a 12.9 percent decline and showing signs of improvement from June’s decline of 21.5 percent and May’s 25 percent slide. First-quarter comps were off 25.5 percent.

Second-quarter net sales dropped 13.8 percent to $126 million from $146.2 million a year earlier.

Wet Seal is hoping that, on a smaller scale, it can duplicate Gap Inc.’s turnaround after several years of sliding sales. Former Disney executive Paul Pressler has rejuvenated results at Gap, enlisting other Disney veterans to do so.

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