NEW YORK — After a tough 2003, American Eagle Outfitters Inc. may be getting primed for an overhaul of its apparel designs. The chain has recruited senior Gap executive LeAnn Nealz to serve in a new creative role, according to sources.
One source said Nealz will soon be named executive vice president and chief design officer. Nealz currently serves as senior vice president of kids and baby product design and development at Gap.
Coinciding with the departure of Nealz, Gap is expected to announce today that Pina Ferlisi, currently senior vice president, Gap adult product design and development, is being promoted to executive vice president, Gap brand design. Ferlisi, a major player in Gap’s turnaround over the past year, will have expanded product design responsibility covering all Gap adult, kids, baby and body concepts. She continues to report to Gap brand president Gary Muto.
Ferlisi and her women’s design team are credited with injecting femininity, color and occasion-based styles into product assortments and accessories, while the men’s team under her direction has upgraded the quality, style and construction of products. In a recent interview, Muto told WWD, “The thing I love about Pina is her fine understanding of aesthetic and the ability to interpret trends in a Gap-appropriate way.”
Even though Ferlisi gets a bigger role, Gap will begin a search for Nealz’s successor. The GapKids division, like the rest of the Gap family, has had its burps in recent years, but lately has been doing much better since being repositioned from commodity products to more premium clothing.
Sources said that Nealz’s last day at Gap is Friday and that she will be taking a newly created spot at American Eagle, rather than displacing anyone. Susan P. McGalla is listed on the company’s Web site as executive vice president and chief merchandising officer. Howard Landon is listed as executive vice president, production and sourcing.
More details about American Eagle’s strategy will emerge Monday when the company presents at the Lehman Brothers conference. Roger Markfield, vice chairman and president, and Laura Weil, executive vice president and chief financial officer, are scheduled to speak. Officials couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The $1.52 billion, 740-unit American Eagle Outfitters designs and sells casual clothing for 15- to 25-year-olds, at mostly moderate prices and in casual and basic styles. AEO’s 110-unit Canadian subsidiary, Bluenotes/Thriftys, targets a slightly younger demographic, offering a more urban/suburban, denim-driven collection for 12- to 22-year-olds. AEO also sells online.
Comp-store sales for AEO declined 5.1 percent in the fourth quarter and 6.6 percent last year. But this year, the business moved into the positive zone, with sales up 7.6 percent in March, 15.2 percent in February and 0.6 percent in January. Net income in the fourth quarter was $35.3 million compared with $38.9 million in the year-ago period, and for the year, net income was $60 million, versus $88.7 million in 2002.