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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Despite the inevitable comparisons between the high-flying J. Crew and Banana Republic, Calhoun insisted Kneen was not hired to "fix anything. We have a lot of momentum. Our business is strong. We just need to gain that consistency."

Banana has been a bright spot for Gap Inc., which generally has struggled with declining traffic and negative comps. Banana Republic's net sales in North America for the third quarter of 2007 were $607 million, up from $563 million in the third quarter of 2006.

For the last five years, Kneen was creative design director for Retail Brand Alliance, where he led the creative vision for brands such as Brooks Bros. and Adrienne Vittadini.

"He has proven from his early days in Italy to his job at Brooks Bros. that he [knows] what this customer needs for various parts of his or her life," said Calhoun. "He's been able to do that at the high end of fashion. Expanding our high-end lines is something we've talked about and something Simon has talked about. Are there more opportunities? Yes. We've seen it start to work. There are constant opportunities to look at those [lines]."

Calhoun pointed out that Kneen was the first to design fashion collections for men's and women's wear at Brooks Bros., and was part of the leadership team that helped reposition the brand. Calhoun added Kneen's leadership skills will allow him to unify the message behind Banana's men's, women's and accessories collections. "We have a very clear vision of what we want the brand to be and [Simon will] bring it through all our communication elements," he said. "We tell our brand story with our product and that helps the teams working on marketing and stores."

Kneen's appointment is effective Jan. 9. He succeeds Deborah Lloyd, who left Banana Republic in October to become co-president and creative director of Kate Spade.

"When I talked to [Kneen] about what our vision for the brand is, he sees us continuing to move it forward," Calhoun said. "As creative director, he'll be involved in all aspects of the brand. He'll be involved in store design. We are in the middle of looking at what the next store design will look like."
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