NEW YORK — In another fashion shakeup, the directional knit house Tse has replaced designer Richard Chai with one of the label’s original architects, Annette Ishida.

For several years, the company has tried to break out of its image as a knit house, hiring big-name designers to create an overall sportswear concept on the runway. But Tse might have gone too far with this strategy, as several competitors have since stepped in to make a grab for its core knit business — an area Tse once dominated with cashmere basics that were missing from most designer collections.

Although Chai’s collections for Tse were well received editorially, retailers began to notice that loyal devotees of the label had turned away from its new direction. Tse has had an avant-garde image for its top-line collection, with guest designers such as Hussein Chalayan, Victor Alfaro and Narciso Rodriguez, but their work was always viewed as an image vehicle for Tse’s main knitwear lines for men and women, which at one point had an estimated volume of $80 million. From 1995 to 2000, those lines were designed by Ishida, who has now been named vice president of design, said Rebecca Shafer, a creative consultant to Tse.

Chai, a former designer for Marc Jacobs, was brought on board as creative design director to oversee the direction of all of Tse’s collections, including its contemporary Tse Say brand, in 2001, but the attention appeared to be too focused on the runway looks. As a result, Tse, like many fashion brands in a difficult economic environment, is trying to reconnect with its roots.

Shafer convinced Ishida to return to Tse from Donna Karan International, where she had been working for only a month designing knits for the designer collection. Before that, Ishida was the knitwear designer for Prada in Milan.

Because of the long lead-time requirements of its knit production Ishida’s first collection for the house will be for fall 2004. The company plans to skip the runways for the spring season while it retools, although Chai’s final Tse collection, for spring will be shown informally at the showroom during the September market.

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