BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — "We’ve been to the dark side, and we didn’t like it," said Rob Gruen, Parisian’s chief executive officer, of his challenge to elevate the chain from a promotion-driven retailer to a specialty store star.

Parisian is now positioned as Saks Inc.’s second most upscale division — below Saks Fifth Avenue, but above all the group’s other department stores. It’s a strategy that has its risks, with some analysts questioning how large such a niche can be — and whether Parisian’s reinvention will be radical enough to jump-start the struggling department store sector.

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