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April 6, 2010 11:21 AM

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Ann Taylor's Hip Check

These days, Ann Taylor is up for partying. And the brand staged a good one at the Ace Hotel recently for a preview of the fall collection, with models lounging on the sofas, displaying just the right amount of elegance...

These days, Ann Taylor is up for partying. And the brand staged a good one at the Ace Hotel recently for a preview of the fall collection, with models lounging on the sofas, displaying just the right amount of elegance and aloofness appropriate for a cool cocktail hour. "We can
get you in and out real fast," an executive told a reporter.


If it hadn't been for the Bert Stern party the same night to celebrate his Club Monaco campaign, I would have loved to stay longer to take in the crowd, which was filled with fashion journalists and photographers and punctuated by an appearance by "Mad Men" star Christina Hendricks and a performance by singer-songwriter V.V. Brown.



It's clear Ann Taylor and other retailers and brands catering to thirtysomethings and Baby Boomers want to seem hipper and with-it, fashion-wise. They're eager to escape the "missy" reputation. It's a term they've come to loathe and have deemed antiquated. Companies like
Talbots, J.C. Penney and Ann Taylor have been revamping the merchandise and getting inspiration from faster-moving fashion sectors, like the contemporary and designer markets, and looking to latch on to wider audiences, even the blogger crowd. For fall, they've
gotten on trend and are skewing younger and sexier while being careful not to cross over to the edgy side.


"We're not misses'," said Kay Krill, chief executive officer of Ann Taylor Stores Corp.  "We're timeless, modern and ageless."


How well the fall merchandise sells remains to be seen, but there should be real interest. Outfits are often styled, accessorized and constructed with versatility, meaning there's a blend of practicality and fashion. They're good to go to work in, and stylish enough for an evening on the town.


But the big question is whether the brands are seizing upon too many of the same trends. Leopard prints, slimmer fitting pants, cardigans as a replacement to the traditional jacket, and a buildup of chunky, bold jewelry and fur trims seemed ubiquitous in the fall presentations.


While the collections generally appeared about as sophisticated and appealing as they've ever been, there was a wisp of familiarity, suggesting that with all the innovation, retailers run
the risk of falling into an old trap -- merchandising sameness. They must maintain a balance between becoming more fashion forward and on-trend and retaining a distinct brand identity but still break from the past, not to mention keeping those affordable prices and perceived
values. It's a tall order.
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