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Banana Republic Reinstates Rosen to Roll New Merchandising

Banana Republic is bringing back an executive from its glory days in the 1990s to help it execute a more complex plan for product presentation.

Gap has appointed Julie Rosen senior vice president of merchandising for Banana Republic, reporting to Jack Calhoun, the division's president and himself former executive vice president of merchandising and marketing. Rosen will lead all product merchandising for Banana Republic, the company stated, including men's, women's and accessories. The 15-year Gap veteran was a top merchandiser for Banana Republic during a period when it was molding its position as a destination for affordable luxury. She left the company in 2006 after advancing to the position of top merchandiser at the Gap brand. By then, however, the overall company was on the skids and in the midst of a long string of year-over-year comparable store sales declines.

Between her departure from Gap and her rehiring at Banana Republic, Rosen acted as a consultant for various retailers including Nike, Theory and Chrome Hearts.

The reinstatement of a top executive from a successful era isn't unprecedented in retailing. In 2006, after chairman Herb Zarkin became concerned about the direction BJ's had taken under CEO Mike Wedge, he took back the chief executive post and reinstalled an entire executive suite from the company's own '90s growth era including Laura Sen, who returned as executive vice president of merchandising and logistics and now is CEO.

Yet, issues at BJ's revolved around the increasing complexity of operations and not fashion. Banana Republic is a fashion business originally developed to serve maturing baby boomers and Gen Xers who may not be in tune with its styles anymore. In the meantime, competition has become tougher as department stores, middle tier retailers such as J.C. Penney and Kohl's and even warehouse clubs have developed fashion assortments that provide consumers with improved looks at locations they may visit more often. And that's not to mention the range of retailers from Aeropostale to H&M that have been redefining the casual fashion market for the younger consumers, and Banana Republic needs to draw youth if it is going to grow.

Turning around Banana Republic is a priority for Gap. Even before it brought Rosen back, the company was revisiting product presentation to help it more effectively reach consumers. During the company's fourth quarter conference call in late February, Glenn Murphy, Gap chairman and CEO said:

I was recently in a meeting when the Banana Republic team was here representing all their stores, looking at all their options, and basically rebuilding the assortment of the store from the ground up, and that'll take place in their business in the fall.
So there's been quite a bit of focus and I think that comes with us as a business culturally thinking of customers first. Not that we never thought about customers before, but I think with the heightened level of focus on customers we are going to assort our stores. To use Banana Republic as an example, we can't do 450 different assortments; that would be chaos for us. But we can certainly break it down in a much deeper way and a much more fragmented way than we do today, which could be three or four different assortments.
Rosen will be critical to executing that more complex strategy.
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