By  on September 27, 2007

COSTA MESA, Calif. — St. John unveiled its spring 2008 collection here on Tuesday, along with the label's new chief executive officer, Glenn McMahon.

The past two seasons have seen a return to many of St. John's classic knit suits and sparkly evening pieces, as well as the addition of more modern silhouettes such as short dresses, trenchcoats and cropped jackets.

The spring 2008 collection offered more innovations, such as lighter knit jackets with chiffon appliqués worked into the fabric, knit shorts suits, studs and beading, patterned knits and chiffon separates.

McMahon, hired last month from Dolce & Gabbana USA, where he was president, made his public debut in his role, accompanied by St. John co-founder Marie Gray and her daughter, Kelly, the former creative director, who have rejoined the $400 million Irvine, Calif.-based company as creative consultants.

About 450 devotees viewed the collection in a tent erected in the plaza of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

"Things here have been great so far," McMahon said after the show. "I've gotten a really warm reception from Marie and Kelly Gray and the rest of the team, and we are really excited about the future of St. John."

Among the more directional pieces in the collection are those with handwork and embroidery detail and the chiffon skirts, Kelly Gray noted.

"The prints are spectacular, but for me, it's about really light skirts,'' she said. "We are also noticing a trend toward shorter skirts. It's all about the leg."

Gray also created a few "impulse purchases" such as checked jackets with printed chiffon linings that match the blouses. "It's very personal to have everything from the inside going on the outside as well," she said.

"For me, this collection was all about fun colors and the lightness and airiness of spring,'' Marie Gray said. "One of our goals was to get absolutely featherweight jackets that slide and glide onto the body and I think we did accomplish that. Everything is lighter and fluffier. When it comes to fashion, I always have a great time."St. John chairman Jim Kelley said last month that business had picked up considerably in recent months, citing major improvements in wholesale accounts and St. John's boutiques. He described last year as "not a very good year for us."

Profits and sales had been shrinking even before Richard Cohen arrived as ceo in 2004. However, the situation was exacerbated by his strategy to entice younger customers with a new fit. Many newer styles met resistance from loyal and mature customers.

McMahon's task is to take the company to the next level. In the 16 months between McMahon's appointment and Cohen's departure in April 2006, interim ceo Philip Miller and Bruce Fetter, president and chief operating officer, sought to get the company back on track with the return of Marie and Kelly Gray, and by creating clothes that appealed to loyal St. John customers as well as a younger generation. So far, retailers have been pleased with the results.

"It's quite an honor to be a part of this team led by Marie and Kelly Gray and a group that really knows the product,'' McMahon said. "I think [my job] is about re-energizing the company and getting customers excited about the brand again. The clothing has evolved really nicely."

Kelly Gray said she is reenergized, as well. "It's so inspirational working with Glenn and so I have a renewed interest in the work. I came into St. John on a Sunday for the first time in I can't remember when. The chemistry has been great."

For McMahon, adjusting to life in Southern California has been easy. "What's not to like about it? All you have to do is step outside," he laughed, adding, "Obviously, the commitment to getting the job done is very important, but we are off to a great start."

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