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NEW YORK — Mark Lee keeps shaking things up at Barneys New York.

This story first appeared in the December 2, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In his ongoing drive to build his own management team, the retailer’s chief executive officer is understood to be seeking a women’s fashion director, and has two leading candidates in his sights: Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Lane Crawford, and Virginia Smith, fashion market/accessories director at Vogue.

The appointment would bolster Barneys’ fashion team after the departures this week of Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s, and Julie Gilhart, senior vice president and women’s fashion director. Lee tapped Daniella Vitale, one of his former colleagues at Gucci, to succeed Collinson as chief merchant and executive vice president overseeing all women’s and operations. Either Rutson or Smith would succeed Gilhart.

Rutson could not be reached for comment at press time, while calls to Smith were forwarded to Vogue’s press office, which declined comment.

“The search has begun and is ongoing,” said a Barneys spokeswoman. “We intend to meet many candidates but no decisions have been made.”

However, Rutson is one of the most sought-after fashion directors in retail for the job she has done raising Lane Crawford’s fashion profile. British-born Rutson has lived in Hong Kong for more than 15 years and is known for having great fashion instincts, but also for being very business driven. Lane Crawford currently operates five stores in Hong Kong and Mainland China and is considered the key fashion specialty store in the booming Asian region. Rutson has been a key to its success, zeroing in on the key contemporary category with the likes of Alexander Wang and Helmut Lang while at the same time adding an edgy element to the store’s fashion mix with designers such as Alexander McQueen, Balmain, Azzedine Alaïa, Haider Ackermann, Rick Owens, Vanessa Bruno and Marni.

Whichever candidate is chosen to succeed Gilhart, the appointment of a women’s fashion director would be another sign that Lee is wasting no time making major changes at Barneys since taking over as ceo in September. The appointment of Vitale and a new women’s fashion director could indicate the retailer wants to broaden its appeal and add more contemporary price points while at the same time maintaining its designer edge.

Meanwhile, Lee made another key appointment Wednesday when he tapped another former Gucci colleague, Charlotte Blechman, as Barneys’ senior vice president of communications and marketing. Blechman started at Gucci in 1995 and, three years later, she became director of worldwide celebrity relations. She moved to Gucci Group’s Yves Saint Laurent division as vice president of public relations in 2001 and returned to Gucci to serve in that role in 2004. She left last December and became an industry consultant.

In her new role at Barneys, she will lead the specialty store’s efforts in advertising, marketing, events, public relations, CRM and visual presentation, reporting to Lee.

While Blechman said she will be working closely with Simon Doonan, the store’s creative director, on advertising and visual presentations, her appointment stirs further speculation over Doonan’s future at the store. It is understood his current contract expires in May. A Barneys spokeswoman declined to comment.


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