In another sign of the growing influence of specialty stores in cosmetics retailing,

AnnTaylor

(ANN)

said Wednesday it will launch a line of color cosmetics next year.

Speaking at the

Robertson Stephens Consumer Conference

in New York, AnnTaylor Chairman and CEO Patrick Spainhour said the company will complete tests of fixtures and staff training later this month. AnnTaylor will roll out the products in 300 stores in the spring of 2001.

AnnTaylor joins other retailers with roots in apparel, notably

Intimate Brands'

(IBI)

Victoria's Secret

TST Recommends

unit and

Gap

(GPS) - Get Report

, with its Gap Body stores, in moving into the high-margin cosmetics and personal care business. These stores, along with emporiums like the

LVMH

(LVMHY)

-owned Sephora, are prompting a shift in how prestige cosmetics -- heretofore confined behind counters in department stores -- are sold in the U.S.

Spainhour also said that AnnTaylor's Web site will most likely be launched this holiday season, though the company has a backup launch date of March. AnnTaylor has been criticized for coming late to the Internet, but Spainhour said the technology and features of the site will make it worth the wait. He also talked briefly about what he called the most important strategy the company has undertaken in the last four years -- including the successful launch of its lower-budget Loft division -- a new, consultant-driven in-store initiative called "delighting client experience."

It may be delightful, but it's also pretty fuzzy; Spainhour offered few details, saying it was "difficult to explain," but that he'd talk about it later (presumably in the breakout session, from which Robbie Stephens has barred reporters).

CFO Barry Erdos repeated that AnnTaylor's goal for the remainder of the year calls for top-line sales growth of between 17%-19% and sales growth at stores open at least a year in the low single digits. AnnTaylor's shares fell after it said last week that same-store sales rose 1.3%, at the lower end of analysts' expectations.

AnnTaylor shares were unchanged early Wednesday at 32 11/16.