Hudson’s Bay Co. on Monday announced that Vanessa LeFebvre has been named president of Lord & Taylor, effective May 22, reporting to HBC CEO Helena Foulkes. The news comes amid a report that HBC has hired advisors to rescue the ailing banner.
It’s a return for LeFebvre, who launched her career at Lord & Taylor as a buyer and merchandise manager, and spent 10 years there. She later had senior roles elsewhere, including TJX Cos., Daffy’s and Macy’s, where she was the principal architect of the off-price Backstage division, departing just a year ago. Since then, she's been at Stitch Fix, responsible for setting strategy and merchandising for women's.
Meanwhile, Walmart on Wednesday said that it's ready to launch a new Lord & Taylor flagship store on Walmart.com, which will debut with more than 125 brands.
LeFebvre most recently spent a year at apparel subscription company Stitch Fix, but HBC’s struggling banner was more likely attracted to her department store experience. Lord & Taylor itself provided a longstanding and meaningful slice of that and in a statement this week, she said getting her fashion and retail start there gave her a "passion for the brand."
"I am incredibly proud to return to my roots and thrilled about the opportunity to lead the Lord & Taylor organization," she said. "This is an exciting time to join Lord & Taylor as we evolve our model and merchandise assortment to best meet customer expectations and shopping preferences."
Change, however, is key for Lord & Taylor. The banner is faring especially poorly in a challenged retail segment. Once known as a luxury destination, it's now plagued by weak traffic and sales. "Performance at our other North American banners, Lord & Taylor and HBC Off Price have clearly not met expectations, and I’m diving deeper to better understand those businesses and the best course of action to improve performance," Foulkes said in March, according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha.
Off-price continues to perform well, and that's mostly true at HBC, too. So while Lord & Taylor may be happy to bring LeFebvre back, it's not so much nostalgia but her experience at Macy's, particularly at Backstage, that's so valuable. After all, she created Macy's off-price division "from the ground up, to co-exist in the Macy's portfolio," according to her LinkedIn page. She was responsible for opening the initial concept stores and accomplished this task in less than a year from first concept.
The approach Walmart is taking to highlight its tie-up with Lord & Taylor further underscores the department store's pivot. The partnership has garnered mixed reviews, but whether it boosts Lord & Taylor's e-commerce or Walmart's image, it's a signal that the once iconic retailer is willing to play in less upscale waters. "Vanessa is a change agent with a track record of conceptualizing and building new lines of business," Foulkes said in a statement. "This, combined with her strong experience leading digitally-focused strategies and understanding of department store retailing, makes her the right person to lead Lord & Taylor into the future."