By and  on July 2, 2007

In a move that appeared to catch Liz Claiborne Inc. off guard, Trudy F. Sullivan, the corporation's president, resigned Thursday to become president and chief executive officer of Talbots Inc., effective Aug. 6.

She succeeds Arnold Zetcher, who led the company for 20 years and built it into a highly recognizable brand with a loyal following.

Though she has big shoes to fill, 57-year-old Sullivan seems like a strong fit with Talbots, considering she's an industry veteran with vast experience in vertical retailing and in catering to the misses' market. Also, she's a native of Wellesley, Mass., which is not far from the Hingham, Mass., headquarters of Talbots. She also owns a home on Cape Cod, and has long been a Talbots customer. Like Claiborne, Talbots and its J. Jill division target women 35 and over.

Wall Street applauded the Talbots appointment, pushing the stock up $2.77 on Friday to close at $25.03.

While Sullivan will be challenged to reverse the sagging sales and profits trends at Talbots and J. Jill, her move does raise the possibility of Talbots further building up its portfolio of brands, and examining the portfolio at Claiborne, which has also been struggling and is expected to shed some of its labels. Talbots bought J. Jill in February 2006, beating out Claiborne in a bidding war, and has an infrastructure that could support additional brands.

In an interview Friday, Sullivan said she will join Talbots with "no preconceived plans."

"My whole style has been intensively collaborative," she said. "I want to get in and learn. I'm going in with a clean slate to absorb."

By taking the Talbots top post, Sullivan breaks through the glass ceiling and joins a very small cadre of women running fashion retailers and brands, which includes Kay Krill at Ann Taylor, Sally Frame Kasaks at Pacific Sunwear, Angela Ahrendts at Burberry and Maureen Chiquet at Chanel. Sullivan also becomes a member of the Talbots board.

At Claiborne, she couldn't break through, and was passed over as ceo last year. She was the leading inside candidate but the company selected William L. McComb, who worked as a group president at Johnson & Johnson, to succeed Paul Charron.

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