A New Era at Donna: Grow Collection Sales And Hit the Deadlines

NEW YORK — If Donna Karan represents the left side of the brain, then Melissa Parker-Lilly is on the right.Just a few weeks into her new role...

NEW YORK — If Donna Karan represents the left side of the brain, then Melissa Parker-Lilly is on the right.

Just a few weeks into her new role as president of the Donna Karan New York brand, Parker-Lilly has quickly placed her stamp of orderly, deadline-oriented management upon a designer collection that has been known, at times, to show an allergic reaction to any attempt at discipline.

Case in point: While most American designers have recently pared down or done away with their pre-season collections — the commercial clothes they show to stores ahead of their editorialized runway presentations, Donna Karan opened on Monday with a pre-fall 2003 collection featuring close to 200 samples, a full month ahead of her catwalk show. This early-bird approach is coming from a designer who has often lambasted the industry’s move toward showing fashion trends so far in advance of selling them.

Lots of changes are afoot at Donna Karan International, the American megabrand that has slowly been digested by the French conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton since it made the expensive acquisition in December 2000. Much of that transition has been marked by somewhat antagonistic relations between the designer and the new owners of her brands, contributing to strained relations with some of the company’s key retail accounts. But the mood has quickly changed there since the arrival of Fred Wilson as chief executive officer in September and the appointment of three divisional presidents since.

Although Karan and Parker-Lilly, the former president of the Italian knit firm Agnona, were strangers, they formed a quick rapport for a simple reason, the designer said during a lengthy reflection on the company on Friday: "She gets it," Karan said. "She gets me."

Although Karan’s approach to design and everything else in her life would best be described as emotional, Parker-Lilly seems to be able to draw the same conclusions about the Donna Karan customer and her lifestyle using practical logic. In examining the merits of a cashmere backed-leather cape or a reversible leather trenchcoat, Karan and Parker-Lilly often spoke at the same time, talking over each other about different points of interest and ultimately understanding every word the other one said, or at least indicating that they do.
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