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Business_news The rise and fall of Ann Taylor, the company that dressed American career women for decades and ushered in the era of the ‘power suit’

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AP Photo/Nati Harnik


  • Ascena Retail Group, parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT,filed for bankruptcy on Thursdaywith plans to shutter 1,100 stores across its brands. 
  • However, for decades, Ann Taylor has been a staple for the modern career women, equipping their wardrobes with classic tailored styles like crisp button-downs and sharp suits. 
  • We took a look at the rise and fall of the company over the years, and how the company began as a small women’s wear apparel brand founded in 1954 and grew into a fashion powerhouse. 
  • Visit business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Ascena Retail Group — the parent company of Ann Taylor, LOFT, Lou & Grey, Lane Bryant, Catherines, Cacique, and Justice —filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protectionon Thursday, with plans to shutter an 1,100 stores across its brands. 

For Ann Taylor and its sister brand LOFT, the filing marks the culmination of several years of slumping sales and dwindling foot traffic, challenges worsened by the coronavirus outbreak. However, for decades, Ann Taylor made a name for itself by helping American women get dressed for work, with its classic tailored styles and a wide range of crisp button-downs and sharp suits. 

Founded in 1954, Ann Taylor became the go-to destination for professional women and set several styles on the map, including trousers and pants for women in the 1960s and 1970s and the ubiquitous 1980s power suit. As it evolved over the years, the company expanded to include spinoff brands like Ann Taylor Loft — later renamed just LOFT — to diversify its customer base and appeal to younger professional women seeking to upgrade their wardrobes. 

In the early 2000s, Ann Taylor continued to act as a major player in the New York fashion scene, attracting celebrities and notable figures like Anna Wintour and Annie Leibovitz to its fashion shows and parties. A slew of celebrity partnerships and collaborations further set it on the map. 

By the time Ascena Retail Group had acquired the brand in 2015, it was already mired in the difficulties of the retail apocalypse, challenges that within just five years would be furthered by the unforeseen fallout of the global pandemic. 

We took a closer look at the rise and fall of Ann Taylor over the years. 

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Business_news Ann Taylor was named after the best-selling dress style at Liebeskind’s father’s women’s wear store — the “Ann.” He added “Taylor” as a nod to its tailored apparel.

A modern version of the “Ann” on a model during the brand’s summer 2014 fashion show.


Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images



The “Ann” was a cotton dress with a button-up top, full skirt, and belt — a style which has endured at the company to this day. Liebeskind’s called the dress Ann in honor of the name’s New England heritage.

Source:The Chicago Tribune

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Business_news In the 1960s and 1970s, it rose to prominence as one of the first apparel brands to begin selling trousers and pants, helping to shift trends in traditional women’s style at the time.




AP Photo/Nati Harnik



Source:The Chicago Tribune

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Business_news “We get women,” the company’s website read in 2011. “Real women live ever more complicated lives. They juggle more activities, play more roles, and carry more expectations.”

A woman shops at an Ann Taylor store in 2006.


Mark Leffingwell/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images



“But what women value is what they have always valued: connecting with others, making smart choices, looking and feeling great. Living life fully means women choose to play all their roles with confidence and style. That is why we’re here.” 

Source:Ann Inc. via Wayback Machine

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Business_news In the 1990s, Ann Taylor started to face increased competition from other retailers targeted at career women.

A woman browses purses and shoes at an Ann Taylor store in New York City.


Mario Tama/Getty Images



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Business_news In response, the company launched Ann Taylor Loft in 1998 in an effort to diversify its customer base and appeal to younger working women.




Mario Tama/Getty Images



Business_news Ann Taylor Loft quickly became known as the company’s cooler, hipper younger sister brand. It eventually changed its name to just LOFT in 2009.

Clothing is on display during an Ann Taylor LOFT grand opening at the Chelsea Wrentham Outlet on July 26, 2008, in Wrentham, Massachusetts.


Getty Images for Ann Taylor LOFT



Business_news Ann Taylor further demonstrated its strength and resilience in 2002, when it became the first retail store to reopen near the site of Ground Zero and the September 11 attacks in New York City.




Mario Tama/Getty Images



business to the New York Police and fire Widows and Children's Benefit Fund." id="the-store-donated-a-portion-of-its-sales-in-its-first-week-in-business-to-the-new-york-police-and-fire-widows-and-childrens-benefit-fund-12">

Business_news The store donated a portion of its sales in its first week in business to the New York Police and fire Widows and Children’s Benefit Fund.




Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty Images



Business_news In the first decade of the 2000s, Ann Taylor continued to have a strong presence in the New York City fashion scene.

Models walk the runway at the Ann Taylor See Now, Wear Now runway show at The New York Public Library on September 17, 2009


Will Ragozzino/Getty Images



Business_news Its shows and events attracted some of the city’s most notable figures, including Vogue editor Anna Wintour and famed photographer Annie Leibovitz …

Vogue editor Anna Wintour and famed photographer Annie Leibovitz attend Ann Taylor’s 50th anniversary celebration.


Thos Robinson/Getty Images



Business_news … as well as stars like Amanda Bynes …




George Napolitano/FilmMagic



NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 17: Actress Amanda Bynes attends the Ann Taylor See Now, Wear Now runway show at The New York Public Library on September 17, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by George Napolitano/FilmMagic)

Business_news Ann Taylor also continued to elevate itself by hosting philanthropic efforts for causes like the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

A Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation event at an Ann Taylor store in New York City in 2006.


Jimi Celeste/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images



Business_news To expand its reach, Ann Taylor also moved into new areas like outlet stores, offering items at a lower price point.

People stand in front of the store during a LOFT Outlet grand opening in 2008.


Getty Images for Ann Taylor LOFT



Business_news In the following years, Ann Taylor continued to flounder. The brand faced criticism for bland styles and failure to innovate, a similar problem faced by peers like Gap, Inc.

A model walks in an Ann Taylor runway show.


Chance Yeh/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images



Business_news The store’s perceived lack of imagination even inspired an SNL sketch called “The Fashion Coward,” starring Emma Stone making “safe” fashion choices.




NBC Universal



Source:The Atlantic,NBC Universal

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