Jay Levitt Heads Fashion Bug

Former May Merchandising exec Jay Levitt takes the helm at Charming Shoppes unit as president of its Fashion Bug brand.

Jay Levitt, former president and chief executive officer of May Merchandising, has joined Charming Shoppes as president of its Fashion Bug brand, a new post.

This story first appeared in the September 23, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Levitt served as president and ceo of May Merchandising and May Department Stores International from 2001 until 2005, when parent May Department Stores Co. was acquired by Federated Department Stores, now Macy’s Inc. Earlier, he was president and ceo of the Robinsons May division of May in Los Angeles, and worked as general merchandise manager for a number of May divisions and as a divisional merchandise manager at The Broadway and J.W. Robinson’s, which was later merged with May Co. California to form Robinsons May.

Since leaving May, Levitt has worked as a retail consultant. He reports to Alan Rosskamm, chairman of Charming Shoppes and, since the departure of Dorrit Bern in July, its interim ceo. Concurrent with Bern’s departure and Rosskamm’s appointment, Brian Woolf, former ceo of Cache, was named president of Charming Shoppes’ Lane Bryant plus-size brand. In addition to searching for a permanent ceo, the company is seeking a president of Catherines, the smallest of its three main brands.

Joseph Baron, chief operating officer, had been responsible for management of the Fashion Bug business prior to Levitt’s appointment and will continue to oversee Catherines until a brand president is named.

“In Jay and Brian, we have two executives who’ve been presidents and ceo’s and who’ve had their hands on the reins of entire businesses,” said a spokeswoman for Charming Shoppes. Rosskamm is the former chairman and ceo of Jo-Ann Stores and has served on Charming’s board for 15 years.

As of Aug. 2, the company operated 929 Fashion Bug and Fashion Bug Plus stores out of a total store count of 2,359. In 2007, the division accounted for $992.7 million in sales, nearly one-third of the corporate total of $3 billion, but revenues slid 6.2 percent from the prior year and same-store sales were off 4 percent. During the first six months of the current year, divisional revenues were off 12.2 percent to $471.2 million and same-store sales, both at Fashion Bug and companywide, were down 11 percent. Lane Bryant’s sales were $581.6 million, down 7.6 percent, and Catherines’ were $169.8 million, down 12.7 percent.

The company said in February that it would close 150 underperforming stores, including about 100 Fashion Bug units. Of that number, 78 had been closed as of the end of August, contributing to the sales decline.

In addition to Bern’s dismissal, which resulted in a $5.8 million aftertax charge against second-quarter results, the company has been embroiled in a series of other challenges throughout the year. In May, it reached a compromise with two hedge fund investor groups, Crescendo Partners and Myca Partners, which led to a reconstitution of its board and avoided a proxy battle.

Earlier this month, as part of Rosskamm’s goal to focus on core assets, it sold its misses’ apparel catalogues, collectively known as Crosstown Traders, to Orchard Brands, a unit of Golden Gate Capital.