Exclusive: A&F’s New Ruehl

A&F chief executive officer Michael Jeffries lays out the strategy for Ruehl, the firm’s latest chain aimed at post-college shoppers, set to open next...

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The store also sells limited-edition art T-shirts, priced at $50, signed by the artist. This month, Eric

Lebofsky is the artist and the shirts include whimsical, cartoon-like illustrations. Each month a different artist will create T-shirt designs.

There’s a section with a black, white and gray theme that groups men’s and women’s jackets, cardigans, tanks and knit boxers — all geared to be layered with the jeans.

Attention to detail is prevalent throughout the assortment, from burgundy stitching for a splash of color on less bright apparel, French cuffs on shirts, antique ticking, leather jackets that are hand-buffed for an aged look, and logos with New York references, such as Village Meat Packing District track jackets. Even the shopping bags have canvas handles for a unique touch.

The new division is being run by senior vice president and general merchandise manager Carole Kerner, considered a strong, creative merchant with a range of experience at high-profile brands including Donna Karan and J. Crew, who was instrumental in launching Hollister four years ago. Alisa Durando is vice president for women’s design and Lisa Axelson is vice president of men’s design. The stores are designed by Anderson Architects, and interior design firm Schaefer Studio, working with A&F.

Jeffries said Ruehl has been in development for three years, and will undergo a year of testing at the initial handful of stores, before deciding on a rollout. “We decided we had to go after the 22- to 30-year-old that we weren’t addressing.”

Ruehl, with its more sophisticated attire, is also geared to capture customers who may have tired of or outgrown the look of A&F, which has shown lackluster sales lately.

Other customer segments or categories will be targeted through the new formats beyond Ruehl, although Jeffries declined to detail the demographics they will pursue or what they will sell.

Then, hinting that retirement is in the back of his mind, Jeffries said he wants to get all of the new retail concepts up and running before he decides to leave the A&F campus for good. But the 59-year-old Jeffries gave no timetable for his retirement, and there’s no sign he’s slowing down. As far as creating a succession strategy, he said, “It’s one of my big emphases,” and that bringing in Robert Singer as president and chief operating officer in May was part of it. Singer previously was chief financial officer at Gucci Group under Domenico De Sole.
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