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LaVelle Olexa, Lord & Taylor’s senior vice president and longtime fashion director, is leaving the company on Feb. 27.
Her departure stems from cutbacks and centralization efforts by Hudson’s Bay Trading Co., based in Toronto, which operates Lord & Taylor in the U.S. and The Bay, Zellers, Home Outfitters and Fields in Canada. Hudson’s Bay this month eliminated 1,000 jobs to offset declining business conditions.
“It was an extraordinarily good run,” Olexa told WWD.
She joined Lord & Taylor 20 years ago, survived management and ownership changes, and, despite her shy and soft-spoken nature, remained the store’s highest profile executive for many years in media and fashion circles. She worked closely with the chain’s previous two chief executive officers, Marshall Hilsberg and, more recently, Jane Elfers. Brendan Hoffman is the current ceo.
While still under the ownership of the former May Department Stores Co., which was taken over by Macy’s Inc. three years ago, Elfers and Olexa worked to awaken the chain’s moderate image through merchandise upgrades and taking more chances with the advertising, marketing and visuals. The process was accelerated by NRDC Equity Partners, which bought Lord & Taylor in 2006 and Hudson’s Bay in 2008.
“One of the most rewarding parts of the job has been directing the Lord & Taylor windows,” Olexa recalled. She was particularly proud of filling them with artwork by Larry Rivers, Richard Estes, Manolo Valdez, Chakaia Booker, and even Tats Cru, the graffiti group, among other artists. One time, under her direction, the windows re-created the streets of San Miguel in Mexico. For one Father’s Day promotion, the glass panes were removed to display Corvette sports cars.
“We energized the windows, but we also had parties, book signings, performances and shops that supported them. What we attempted to do was elevate the store to make it interesting and differentiated. Somehow the windows enabled me to bring many elements of the store together in a focused effort,” Olexa said.
At Lord & Taylor, she started as senior vice president of fashion merchandising. She eventually added public relations and sales promotion. Her current title is senior vice president of public relations.
Olexa’s retail career started at Neiman Marcus in Texas where she was an in-house model working for the late Stanley Marcus. She quickly learned that fashion retailing was her calling. “I fell in love with a business that provided me with a world that was perfect for me and I knew it right away,” she said at a Laboratory Institute of Merchandising party honoring her and the formation of a scholarship in her name in 2006. Olexa was also a finalist in the Miss Universe contest.
After Neiman’s, she became the fashion director at May D&F in Denver, and subsequently held the same position at Denver Dry Goods. From there, she joined Woodward & Lothrop in Washington as vice president and fashion director. She then moved to Lord & Taylor, owned by May Department Stores at the time. While May long insisted that its executives keep a low profile and not talk to the press, Olexa was an exception. “I guess there was some level of trust because they gave me more latitude,” Olexa said. “I never felt that they were in any way attempting to curtail my efforts.”
Asked about her future after Lord & Taylor, Olexa replied: “My philosophy is to always look forward. That’s exactly what I am doing now.”