By and  on March 16, 2007

AnnTaylor Stores Corp. is developing an exclusive beauty business and has partnered with a heavy hitter for the project — Robin Burns.

Fragrance and bath and body products are expected to be launched for holiday selling at the Ann Taylor division. Beauty products will be introduced at the Ann Taylor Loft division in the first half of 2008.

"We're entering the beauty business and have selected Robin and her company, Venustas International, as our partner," Kay Krill, president and chief executive officer of AnnTaylor Stores Corp., told WWD in an exclusive interview Thursday.

The beauty strategy, along with other growth initiatives and the specialty retailer's fourth-quarter and year-end results, are being unveiled today. Ann Taylor Stores also will discuss a new concept — a separate, stand-alone business and not an extension of the Ann Taylor brand — to be rolled out in fall 2008, but few details at this early juncture were available.

"We'll be talking about several strategic growth initiatives, but we feel beauty is really an exciting and big one for us," Krill said. "This is absolutely a natural brand extension for us. We've been in the fragrance business in a little way, with Destination and Ann, but now we are taking [the beauty business] to a whole new level with fragrance and bath and body.

"In the past, we've dipped our baby toes in, and have not done it justice. Now we are trying to find meaningful ways to grow the business."

The company is expected to post record earnings that fall within past guidance of $1.96 to $1.98 a share for the year. The Ann Taylor division has recently been strong, and is ready to take on growth initiatives sooner than the Ann Taylor Loft division, which has been slumping lately. A big part of Krill's agenda has been to sharpen the identities of Loft and Ann Taylor and get both divisions simultaneously on track. Before taking the reins of the corporation two years ago, Krill ran Loft and built it into a national specialty force.

Still, Krill acknowledged the beauty strategy will evolve rapidly at Ann Taylor, considering the agreement with Venustas was signed only a few days ago, and the objective is to have products in the Ann Taylor stores in about seven or eight months. "This will be a full rollout across the chain from Day One. We think it's a natural brand extension that doesn't really cannibalize anything."

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