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Ann Taylor Taps Two Execs

Ann Taylor filled two key positions this week critical to the revitalization of the specialty chain.

Ann Taylor filled two key positions this week critical to the revitalization of the specialty chain, naming Lisa Axelson as senior vice president of design, and Mary Kay O’Connor-Wente as senior vice president and director of stores.

“This really marks the completion of the senior team that will work to modernize the Ann Taylor business,” Christine Beauchamp, president of Ann Taylor, told WWD in an exclusive interview.

Beauchamp in August became president of Ann Taylor, which is a division of AnnTaylor Stores Corp. The corporation has recently seen extensive executive turnover and declining sales and profits. The company equally blames its own fashion misses and the economy for the poor business.

Beauchamp said the strategy she is formulating will be geared to transforming Ann Taylor into “an enduring style destination for what’s chic, sophisticated and relevant now.” Without being specific, she said the modernization would affect all aspects of the business, from fashion to stores to marketing. However, the first priority, she stressed, will be to get the product right, which is where Axelson comes in.

“Lisa has a feminine, cosmopolitan design aesthetic, as well as boundless energy and drive,” said Beauchamp. Axelson’s first collection for Ann Taylor will make its debut in the fall 2009 season. Her first day on the job was Tuesday.

The two new Ann Taylor executives both have backgrounds at specialty stores that predominantly cater more to younger customers than the Baby Boomer-misses audience that Ann Taylor generally attracts. Axelson was most recently senior vice president of design for Club Monaco, a division of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. She began her career at Gap Inc., working on the Banana Republic and Gap brands for nearly 12 years. After that, she joined Abercrombie & Fitch and was part of the team that developed the Ruehl brand, serving as vice president of design for two years. At Ann Taylor, she succeeds Michael Smaldone, who joined Talbots.

O’Connor-Wente was most recently at Express serving as zone vice president for the West region. Earlier, she held field leadership roles during her 15-year tenure at Victoria’s Secret, where Beauchamp also once worked. She fills a position that was vacant for some time and starts Nov. 3.

But the addition of the new talent doesn’t necessarily imply a shift in Ann Taylor’s target age and niche. As Beauchamp said, with the turnaround strategy, “we really aren’t focused on demographics. We are focused on psychographics and attitude.”

According to Axelson, part of the plan to modernize will entail plowing through the archives to help bring the company more in touch with its roots, and modernize some of its iconic items, which she listed as the shirtdress, chic trenchcoats, pencil skirts and sheaths. Axelson also said stretch fabrics and items that are versatile enough to wear from day to evening will become more important in the assortment. Previously, Kay Krill, president and chief executive officer, cited prints and colors as being added to the collection, as well as motorcycle jackets and ruffle blouses.

For the second quarter, AnnTaylor Stores Corp. saw a 7.7 percent drop in net earnings and a 10.8 percent drop in same-store sales. Ann Taylor operates 345 stores across the U.S. The parent AnnTaylor Stores Corp. operates a total of 959 Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor Loft, Ann Taylor Factory and Loft outlets, as well as anntaylor.com and anntaylorloft.com.