SALTZMAN CONFRONTS LIMITED CHALLENGE

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Ellin Saltzman says she's no copycat.

After working closely for more than 20 years with fashion designers at such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Bergdorf Goodman, the new fashion director at The Limited stores now works at a place known for knock-offs.

Despite some speculation that she would be involved in mimicking the creations of her designer friends, Ms. Saltzman said she won't.

"Everyone seems to think copying is the thing," she said. ".*.*. I haven't seen one copy [at The Limited or Express]. I have no desire to copy..."

Ms. Saltzman, who declined to elaborate on her plans, said her biggest challenge will be "forecasting for 7,000 stores...and to be on target. It will be very different."

Despite her duties with the Columbus, Ohio-based retailer's midprice stores, Ms. Saltzman will hold court from the upscale Henri Bendel division in New York. She was most recently fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman from April 1992 to June 1994.

"She's a high-energy, innovative merchandiser," said Brian Kardon, director of Braxton Associates, Boston. "The translation from Bergdorf's will be good. The Limited shopper is aspirational."

Ms. Saltzman's appointment is seen as timely. The women's divisions of the $7 billion specialty store group-which includes The Limited, Limited Too, Express, Lane Bryant, Victoria's Secret, Lerner New York, Abercrombie & Fitch, Structure and Bath & Body Works-have been struggling for several years, said Kurt Barnard, president, Barnard's Retail Marketing Report, Berkeley Heights, N.J.

At a time when most retail apparel sales have been swinging up, The Limited has been having a tough time, though the third quarter of 1994 brought some better news: net income of $90.5 million was up 10% over the year-earlier period, on 6% higher sales of $1.7 billion. But for the first three quarters, net income was down 1.6% to $191 million and sales were off 0.8% to $4.78 billion.

Some are unsure how well Ms. Saltzman's experience will carry over.

"What is she bringing to the table?" Mr. Barnard asked. "She comes from a very high fashion, upscale, couture background. It could raise the question of whether Saltzman has the necessary understanding of the moderate customer."

"She will probably change the look of the stores, create stores-in-stores and bring on more private labels," Mr. Kardon said. "She may want to make her own design group."

One way or the other, most agree change is on the way for the store group. Another round occurred last week as Pamela McConathy moved from Express president to the same title at Lerner. She succeeded Barry Aved, who resigned. Susan Falk left her post as president of Henri Bendel to take Ms. McConathy's place at Express. Succeeding Ms. Falk was Ted Marlow, from exec VP-general merchandise manager at the Structure men's chain.

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