About a month ago, a friend and I were strolling through the Beverly Center, when to my surprise she asked to stop at Ann Taylor.
A present for her grandmother, I assumed, but that wasn't the case. My friend, in a Balenciaga lace bandeau top and Nina Ricci ankle boots, made a beeline for a table of shiny accessories and started trying them on. Still confused as to why we were in my mom's favorite store, I spotted another young shopper, wearing beaded moccasin boots and the cover look from the Urban Outfitters catalog. That's when I knew: This was no longer my mother's Ann Taylor.
A couple of weeks later, getting a second look at the holiday collection and a sneak peek at spring 2010, I was again impressed by how different and good the clothes and accessories at Ann Taylor are looking. Vintage-inspired rhinestone baubles, chunky stone necklaces woven with grosgrain ribbon and decadent-looking cocktail rings are among the bright spots of their holiday offerings -- and most of the jewelry is priced from $60 to $100, which is a lot of bling for your buck considering the high-shine impact these pieces make.
The dresses are classic and feminine, simple shifts with bow details at the shoulders, a '40s-inspired polka dot dress with side ruching and flirty black cocktail dresses adorned with delicate rhinestones at the waist that can look subtle and traditional, but that can easily be styled with fun and quirky accessories for an even more youthful look.
Ann Taylor's face-lift is due in part to new creative director Lisa Axelson, who signed on starting with the fall 2009 collection after creative roles at Club Monaco and Banana Republic. Axelson has injected a fresh and more youthful feeling in the line, but not to the point where you wouldn't recognize it. There are still plenty of ribbon-trimmed cardigans and practical trousers.
Also, look for their ad campaigns. Heidi Klum is the "face" for the holiday season, and according to an Ann Taylor rep, the star of their spring campaign will be an even bigger surprise, someone most people wouldn't have previously associated with the brand.
I'm sure the fashionable young shoppers I saw perusing the Ann Taylor store at the Beverly Center won't be the last. The spring line is chock-full of chic silk trench coats, slim-cut blazers and slouchy camp shirts in a color palette of dusty grays, ivory and plum that would suit a variety of wardrobes and budgets.
-- Melissa Magsaysay