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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...

"The most important thing she’s going to do is to make the person who’s going to sell the clothes understand them," said Karan. "The time and energy that I was putting into these clothes was not really getting out there to the sales floor. She can transfer the design to a consumer level because she has the commercial touch."

A hallmark of Karan’s designs, despite their feminine and sensual appeal, is that they’re somewhat of a challenge for the average customer to understand. Jackets are often cut with the intention of being pinned together with a large, dangerous-looking hat pin; gowns come with layers upon layers of ravaged tulle or velvet that have, as Karan admits, virtually no hanger appeal.

But to see the designer on the floor of her flagship at 819 Madison Avenue, refusing to hear "no" until an unsuspecting customer at least tries on a look, which they more often than not tend to buy, it becomes apparent that hers is a style that requires the accompaniment of some instruction. One of her long-standing frustrations has been the inability to successfully market a product she calls "sleeves," which are basically the sleeves of two cashmere sweaters sewn together as if they were a scarf — a practical and easy shrug to take on and off at whim. If only someone could explain.

"It takes some people a little time to get it," said Karan, noting that the reason for the lack of attention to the management of the collection had more than anything to do with the fast growth of the company’s bridge label, DKNY, throughout much of the Nineties. "DKNY needed an enormous amount of time and attention," she said. "Donna Karan — it wasn’t, let us put it, the priority."

Parker-Lilly’s appointment marks the first time an executive has been placed in charge of only the Donna Karan New York men’s and women’s collections, with no responsibilities for DKNY, which is headed by Mary Wang, following the restructuring by brand that Wilson initiated upon becoming ceo. Parker-Lilly’s first priority was to create a clear message of what the collection was and what it should be, and in many respects, the feeling at 550 Seventh Avenue is that Donna Karan is actually starting from scratch as a relaunch.
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