"They were doing a lot of interesting things with brands and brand extensions back then," recalls Ms. Kasaks, who worked for Talbots when Big G owned that retailer in the mid-'80s. And "that exposure was my MBA."
So Ms. Kasaks, 50, who had worked at Ann Taylor until 1985 as president-CEO, saw a host of brand extension, display and new-product opportunities when she returned seven years later.
"We looked at positioning Ann Taylor as a brand, then extending it through new products and new channels of distribution," she says.
Last year, her new-product efforts represented 20% of the chain's $659 million in sales.
Ms. Kasaks not only rebuilt Ann Taylor's shoe business and introduced the successful ATdenim and Ann Taylor Petities lines, she directed the launch of Destination, a fragrance that's been so profitable the retailer will add Destination shampoo and shower gel this fall.
New distribution channels also are a Kasaks tactic. Included are Ann Taylor Loft, the eight-unit factory-outlet test, and Ann Taylor Studio, a shoe and accessory store test that will double to 10 units this year.
In addition to those product moves, Ms. Kasaks redesigned the Ann Taylor logo and packaging and refurbished stores to create a showcase for its elegant, tailored clothing. Despite the success of brand extensions, the 242 apparel stores are still the company's bread and butter. And Ms. Kasaks has nurtured them accordingly.
"Customers kept talking about the `Ann Taylor look,"' Ms. Kasaks says. "We recognized we.... were creating not just a store but an environment where women could pull the look together."