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Marie Holman-Rao Joins Lord & Taylor

As chief creative officer, she will oversee the design, development and marketing of the department store's private label.

Hudson’s Bay Co. wants to build its Lord & Taylor private label into a major lifestyle brand and has hired retail veteran Marie Holman-Rao to lead the charge.

Holman-Rao has been named chief creative officer of the Lord & Taylor brand, to oversee its design, development and marketing. She joined the store this week and reports to Mary Turner, executive vice president, specialty, for HBC, parent of The Bay in Canada and Lord & Taylor in the U.S. Turner oversees all the company’s private brands at both stores, as well as its specialty businesses at The Bay such as Topshop and The Room.

“We want to grow the Lord & Taylor brand from primarily a cashmere-driven business to a total women’s lifestyle brand,” Turner told WWD. “We have a vision that this Lord & Taylor brand will actually contribute to the overall perception of the Lord & Taylor banner. It’s a very significant opportunity to have a compelling offer, for our current customers and for future customers.”

For fall 2013, “We will launch with an initial emphasis on the sportswear piece and will be building some lifestyle components around it, including footwear, accessories and some cold weather accessories, but the initial engine room will be sportswear.” Jewelry, intimate apparel, and outerwear will follow. Turner said the Lord & Taylor label will evolve into a modern lifestyle, updated contemporary brand, with better-prices comparable to Jones and Ralph Lauren. “We don’t believe it’s about an age.”

At the $4 billion HBC, private brands represent 9 percent of the volume. Officials said the goal is to boost the percentage to 15 percent in three to five years. Compared to other retailers, such as Macy’s Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc., the private brand business at HBC is underdeveloped.

But a year ago, The Bay started selling Lord & Taylor cashmere and did well with it. The plan is to continue selling Lord & Taylor merchandise at both department store chains, and to wholesale it to other retailers. The plan also calls for Holman-Rao to expand the nine-member design team at the Lord & Taylor flagship, who are involved in design, technical design and fabric development.

HBC has a total of 30 private labels, but they’re all being eliminated over the next year, with the exception of Black Brown 1826 men’s wear, Gluckstein home, HBC signature products and exclusive Olympic products. Some labels that have been around awhile, such as Kate Hill in traditional sportswear and Hudson North men’s wear, will disappear, though Turner noted that some best-selling items from those and other labels on their way out could continue under the remaining labels.

Also on the private brand front, Jonathan Greller rejoined HBC this month as senior vice president of private brand apparel and wholesale. While Holman-Rao will direct the creative aspects of the Lord & Taylor brand, Greller serves as merchant for all of the men’s and women’s private brands at Lord & Taylor and The Bay, managing their sell-throughs and presentations on the selling floors.

Holman-Rao has held jobs similar to the Lord & Taylor assignment, including serving as chief design officer at New York & Co. from 2007 to 2010, and president at Limited Design Services from 1997 to 2006. She was also an executive vice president, and later president of Banana Republic, from 1993 to 1999, and in recent years has been a consultant to retail and private equity firms, and in the early part of her career worked at Ann Taylor, Perry Ellis and Macy’s. The Karen Harvey Consulting Group handled the search for Lord & Taylor.