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Keen on Simon Kneen: Banana Republic Taps New Creative Director

Banana Republic is getting serious about trading up. On Thursday, the fashion retailer appointed Simon Kneen.

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Banana Republic is getting serious about trading up.

On Thursday, the fashion retailer appointed Simon Kneen, formerly of Brooks Brothers parent Retail Brand Alliance, as executive vice president of design and creative director. Jack Calhoun, Banana Republic's president, said Kneen's experience with high-end women's and men's wear will allow him to take the retailer to another level, including its new high-end collection, Monogram.

And Calhoun is so bullish about Monogram he even is considering opening freestanding stores devoted to the line — just like competitor J. Crew is doing with J. Crew Collection. "If the right stand-alone made sense...," he stressed. "We're constantly talking about it."

It's hard to avoid comparisons between the two companies. Banana Republic is a division of Gap Inc., which was once led by Millard "Mickey" Drexler. Now, as chairman and chief executive officer of J. Crew, Drexler has put his energies into turning the formerly bland preppy business into fashion with an eccentric flourish. In the process, he introduced Collection, a handpicked assortment of luxe, limited edition items that officially launched online with a mini Web site. On April 22, the company will open its first Collection store, a 2,500-square-foot unit at 1035 Madison Avenue near 79th Street in New York.

Banana Republic quietly launched Monogram for men in the fall. Women's will launch this spring. Sold in 30 Banana Republic stores, the line is described by the company: "BR Monogram, our signature label collection, is defined by remarkably rich fabrics, distinctive details and modern silhouettes for the most eloquent expression of style. Available in limited quantities."

Items shown online included a men's wool-cashmere chalk stripe navy suit blazer for $425; short-sleeve women's gray suit jacket, $225; cashmere men's pinstripe blazer, $800; hand-knit sweater jacket, $300, and treasure green buckle dress, $138.

J. Crew Collection, which had a soft launch online in the spring, features items such as a Toscana shearling jacket for $2,000; a red cashmere opera coat, $1,300, and a tangerine Mina cashmere jacket, $395. Collection pieces have unusual prints or colors to distinguish them from the run-of-the-mill. For example, the Bahia silk dress, $245, was inspired by a vintage scarf, and the Campo de' fiore ballerina dress, $285, is made of custom-colored cotton with allover poppy print from "one of Italy's most renowned mills."
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