NEW YORK — Ann Taylor Stores Corp. is expected to announce soon a new head for its Ann Taylor division, and there’s speculation that Jerome Jessup, formerly with Gap, may be headed to the career women’s chain.

The president’s position has been open sinceKim Roy departed in January, but whether Jessup gets the top post is unclear. This year, there’s been a wave of high-level executive departures, particularly at specialty stores, giving Ann Taylor a wide pool of talent to choose from. Besides Jessup and Roy, Kathy Bronstein left as ceo of Wet Seal; H. James Metscher was ousted as chief merchandising officer at Talbots and Ken Pilot left J. Crew when Mickey Drexler stepped in as ceo. Also, Rob Bernard left Limited Stores last year, and former Jones president Jackwyn Nemerov is job hunting. All would be candidates for Ann Taylor.

However, this week, most of the buzz points to Jessup. As reported, he left as executive vice president of Gap Design and he’s said to have lined up a new job here. He lives in Connecticut, has worked at Gap offices in New York and San Francisco, and despite taking a lot of the heat for Gap merchandise miscues in past years, is still considered, as one source said, "a million-dollar player." He couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, his last day at Gap.

Previously, it was believed that Ann Taylor would tap an insider to head its Ann Taylor division, but the strategy might have changed considering the available talent. In an unusual tack, Barry Erdos, Ann Taylor’s chief operating officer, is leading the search, though J. Patrick Spainhour has final say on a new Ann Taylor president. Typically, a high-profile company like Ann Taylor would hire an executive search firm.

Jessup was executive vice president of Gap Design, but during his 10 years at the corporation he also worked at Banana Republic. As one source points out, "he’s a very creative product guy, not a stores person," though merchandise issues have been at the root of Ann Taylor’s problems and Ann Taylor hasn’t been averse to putting product specialists at the helm inthe past, such as with Kim Roy, who previously worked at Liz Claiborne supervising different divisions and is considered a general manager with strong product expertise. Ann Taylor officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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