Who's Doing Ann's Tailoring?

Back in the 90s, when I was in law school, Ann Taylor was the go-to store for a young woman who'd just landed her first summer associate position -- or was trying to.  The classic, tailored, Audrey-Hepburn-wins-a-moot-court-competition vibe was just the right thing at the right price point, filling a wardrobe niche for women of all ages and sizes.  The fact that the original Ann Taylor store in New Haven, Connecticut, was just a short walk from campus -- and was also a familiar storefront in seemingly every mall in America -- was a convenient bonus.

Then Ann Taylor lost the plot.  The styles and colors were off, the quality was lacking, and the fits were frumpy.  A young professional woman could do better with Theory or even H&M, and much of Ann's more established clan moved on. 

This season, Ann's got a bit of buzz back, with accessories in particular garnering editorial attention.  And when I wandered into a store and expressed pleasant surprise at some of the pieces on the racks, a sales associate who actually looked happy to be wearing them whispered conspiratorially, "New designer."  Lisa Axelson, most recently at Club Monaco and formerly at Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap/Banana Republic, seems to have an eye for updated classics. 

OK, there are still a few too many fibers that owe their existence to a chemical plant somewhere off the New Jersey Turnpike rather than to sun and rain.  And the costume jewelry is very Lanvin from several years ago via last season's Vera Wang, although not so close as to provoke copyright concerns.  It was the small shoe collection, however, that reavealed a real misstep.

Louboutin_Armadillo_AnnTaylor_Lara.jpgWhy, exactly, is a stylistically invigorated and financially savvier Ann Taylor turning Christian Louboutin's "Armadillo" bootie (above left) into plastic-heeled knockoff roadkill (above right)?  From a corporate perspective, AT's route back to success won't be competing with the makers of faster, cheaper copies.  And for the next gen professional customer, facsimile footwear isn't exactly the way to make a good impression on Ms. Hiring Partner -- who may very well own the real thing.