Any deal involving the sale of True Religion Apparel Inc. will have to take place without its founder at the helm.

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Los Angeles-based premium denim firm said late Tuesday that Jeffrey Lubell, who founded the company in 2002, has stepped down as chairman, chief executive officer and creative director. He will be succeeded on an interim basis as ceo by Lynne Koplin, who’s been the company’s president since 2011 after joining as chief operating officer in 2010.

Lubell will serve as chairman emeritus and a creative consultant to the firm for a period of two years.

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The changes come as the company enters the sixth month of its quest for strategic alternatives, including a possible sale, and just three weeks after it told investors that Lubell’s employment contract, scheduled to expire on June 30, would not be renewed in light of its exploration of a sale or other transaction.

The quest for a buyer is being led by a special committee of the company’s board made up of nonmanagement directors. Guggenheim Securities LLC is the committee’s financial advisor and Greenberg Traurig LLP serves as legal counsel.

“I am very proud of all that the company achieved during this decade of both achievements and challenges,” Lubell said. “Now is the right time to facilitate the next phase of the company’s development and growth and for me to seek new creative endeavors.”

Koplin joined True Religion following five years as president of the women’s division of Oxford Industries Inc.’s Tommy Bahama brand. Earlier, she’d worked at Warnaco Group and retail nameplates I. Magnin, Marshall Field’s and Burdines.

True Religion’s board issued a statement noting that, under Lubell’s leadership, “True Religion has become a premier global fashion company, far exceeding its original goals. Jeff’s vision for and commitment to this business has been, and will continue to be, a key driver of True Religion’s success. He has not just made a mark on our company but on the industry as a whole.”

Under Lubell’s leadership, characterized by an aggressive, sometimes confrontational style, True Religion has been a leader in the premium denim space and, along with the smaller Joe’s Jeans Inc., is one of only two U.S.-based companies in the sector that are publicly held. Sales in 2012 rose 11.3 percent to $467.3 million, with same-store sales in its U.S. consumer direct business up 2.7 percent, while net income gained 2.3 percent to $46 million. Its retail operations, a key component of recent growth on both the top and bottom lines, have swelled to 122 stores in the U.S. and 30 in international markets.

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Feb. 7, Lubell owned just over 591,000 shares of True Religion stock, giving him a stake of about 2.3 percent.

Shares on Tuesday closed down 21 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $27.16 prior to the disclosure of the management transition. They were unchanged in the early stages of after-hours trading.

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