Byline: Pete Born

NEW YORK — A new chapter is about to begin in the department store wars.
Robert Ruttenberg, one of the co-founders of Gryphon, is leaving to start his own business, and the Intimate Brands development think tank that he helped build will be dissolved into the corporate divisions that it has been serving.
Intimate Brands Inc., which is 84 percent owned by the Limited Inc., says that the functions and personnel of Gryphon, its in-house development unit, will be integrated after July 31 into its two beauty divisions: Bath & Body Works and Intimate Beauty Corp.’s Victoria’s Secret Beauty Co. The 180 employees at Gryphon have been given jobs at whichever division they have been serving in the past.
Gryphon was started 12 years ago by George Friedman and Ruttenberg as a consulting development arm to ease The Limited into the beauty business. The duo earlier had built Ralph Lauren’s beauty business. After a series of buyouts, Friedman left in 1992 and Ruttenberg continued as president and chief executive of what became a division of a spinoff. Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret and Gryphon became housed in the newly created Intimate Brands.
In a statement, Leslie H. Wexner, Intimate Brands chairman, said, “Over the last 12 years, we have developed very strong expertise in personal care product development and sourcing that has been crucial to the growth of Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret Beauty Co. The Gryphon team, led by ceo Robert Ruttenberg, has been a strategic partner to these businesses, resulting in very innovative and effective products from suppliers around the world. But now, eliminating the business structure around Gryphon and allowing our brands to go ‘business to business’ will give us opportunities for greater speed, efficiency and growth.”
Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret Beauty and Gryphon formed a competitive wedge that, perhaps more than any other single factor, rattled the department store’s dominance of U.S. beauty in the last decade. Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret have a combined retail beauty volume of roughly $2 billion.
Reached for comment, Ruttenberg was exultant, asserting that he had recommended the move last August. “It’s right for the business,” he said Thursday. “I am very supportive of it, and I recommended it last year.”
At the same time, he seemed eager to start a new chapter. Having already built two of the industry’s most influential businesses, Ruttenberg admitted to having an affinity for start-ups. “The idea of taking a small business and starting to build it is very enticing,” he noted, without spelling out his plans.
Sources in the market were speculating Thursday that Ruttenberg would make a bid to develop the beauty businesses of Abercrombie & Fitch and Limited Too. However, he refused to comment. Instead, he wistfully looked back over the last 12 years: “It’s been a wonderful ride.”

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