NEW YORK — With the goal of strengthening its position in the jeans business, Jones Apparel Group Inc. on Thursday promoted Isaac Dabah to the new post of group chief executive officer over its jeans portfolio.

This expands his responsibilities to include the Polo Jeans Co. and LEI brands, in addition to Gloria Vanderbilt business, for which he’d already been responsible.

In an interview at Gloria Vanderbilt’s Manhattan showroom, Dabah asserted that taken collectively, Jones’ denim portfolio would be “the third-largest jeanswear company” in the U.S., behind VF Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.

Jones does not break out revenues for its individual brands, but information gleaned from filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and market sources suggest that together the Gloria Vanderbilt, Polo Jeans and LEI lines do more than $1 billion in wholesale volume a year. Dabah did not dispute that number.

Overall, Jones last year recorded $4.34 billion in revenue.

Dabah joined Jones in April 2002, when the company closed on the acquisition of the Vanderbilt brand. The heads of the three jeans brands now report to Dabah, who will continue to report to Jones ceo Peter Boneparth.

“The formation of this jeanswear group structure will allow Isaac to coordinate the respective sales, design, production and operational components of Polo Jeans Co., Gloria Vanderbilt and LEI,” Boneparth said in a statement.

Jones said Jack Gross, who had served as president of the moderate-priced Gloria Vanderbilt division, was promoted to ceo, a post previously occupied by Dabah, to whom he continues to report.

Other executives now reporting to Dabah include Heather Pech, a 14-year veteran of Jones who was named president of status-priced Polo Jeans in September; Susan Geliebter, one of the founders of moderate junior brand LEI, who heads up design for that line, and Spencer Continued from page 2

Rosenheck, president of sales at LEI.

Pech and Gross also sat in on the interview and sketched out other growth plans in the works at the division.

Gross noted that under his and Dabah’s leadership, Gloria Vanderbilt has expanded its brand portfolio to include the Glo junior line and the Jeanstar contemporary line. Gross said his push for 2004 would be to strengthen those brands’ marketing and image efforts.Dabah said that he’d seek to apply the strategy of brand spinoffs to Polo Jeans and LEI divisions, as well, in an effort to drive sales.

More immediately, Pech said that Polo Jeans is preparing to unveil next month a revamped line for fall 2004 retailing. Over the boom denim years of 2000, 2001 and early 2002, much of the action was centered on the high-end lines that sold for $100 and up, as well as the moderate tier of jeans retailing for $30 and under. The status brands, selling for around $50, lost some of their luster in the excitement.

“The stagnation has been a result of the whole category — not just us — not managing our positioning,” Pech acknowledged. “The opportunity is there to sell jeans from $49 up to $100.”

That would be a big step up in price for a brand that used to top out at $59 retail, she said, and it would allow the company to buy better fabrics and offer fancier washes and finishes.

It’s an approach that other status brands, including Tommy Jeans, are said to be considering as well.

Dabah said that unified management of the three divisions would allow the company to cut costs, which would in turn make it more economical to sell higher-grade products.

“We would look to streamline certain of the costs and would want to have better communications within the divisions,” he said. As an example, he said the group could negotiate better prices with fabric suppliers by coordinating its buying clout.

The Jones statement also noted that “Isaac will also draw on [LEI cofounder] Mel Geliebter’s extensive manufacturing experience.”

The Geliebters, along with Rosenheck, joined Jones in August 2002, when it acquired their company. The LEI and Vanderbilt deals substantially increased Jones’ presence in the jeans business.

Overall, Dabah said he believed the three brands were positioned in a way that they complement each other rather than compete for sales: “They are very different and we want to keep each one’s identity distinct.”

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