Monday, Feb. 09, 2004

Angela Ahrendts

Keeping Claiborne Contemporary

After graduating from Indiana's Ball State University in 1981, Angela Ahrendts could not leave campus fast enough. It wasn't that she disliked Indiana, but for years she had known exactly what she wanted to do. "I always dreamed about getting into the fashion industry," she says. "So I graduated on a Friday, and on Saturday I was on a plane to New York." With similar speed and purpose, Ahrendts, 43, has ascended fashion's corporate ranks, serving as president of the Donna Karan Collection, vice president of Henri Bendel and currently as an executive vice president at Liz Claiborne Inc.

Ahrendts considered being a designer, but when she got to college she realized that other students possessed more raw talent. She excelled in recognizing good designs and figuring out which ones could be sold to which stores and at what price. This is not unlike her role at Claiborne, which runs 32 clothing and accessory brands — including Dana Buchman, Ellen Tracy, Kenneth Cole New York, Mexx, Monet and recent acquisition Juicy Couture — and had sales of $3.2 billion in the first three quarters of 2003. Ahrendts manages a good portion of the women's labels and all of the men's. She may lack the profile of a superstar designer or a CEO, but her decisions directly affect what consumers see in stores ranging from Kohls to Neiman Marcus.