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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...

"We want to operate in a strategic way, to make Donna Karan again the premier women’s ready-to-wear brand in the world," Parker-Lilly said. "There is no other name that evokes the level of passion that Donna’s name evokes. In the past, people didn’t look at Donna Karan as a brand, but as individual pieces. We want to find what that customer needs as a brand at every level. The quality, the taste, the styling, the whole point of view needs to be seamless."

If done correctly, Parker-Lilly expects the women’s collection could grow to a $100 million business within a few years, compared with a peak of about $50 million — where retail sources estimate its zenith to be in the mid-Nineties.

Parker-Lilly’s strategy focuses on clear communication, both with Karan and through the various departments of the company, of the nature of the company’s design statement and how to improve its execution, deliveries and distribution. Among the immediate changes, Donna Karan has shifted the production and sourcing of its factories into some of the best available in Italy, relying on Parker-Lilly’s experience in the European market through her prior role at Agnona and the U.S. launch of Loro Piana. Equally important is the dissemination of a consistent strategy throughout the design process and to other product areas, like handbags, home, pantyhose and underwear, as well as maintaining clear deadlines for color choices, design and sample production.

But the biggest change, by far, is the incorporation of an extensive pre-fall collection that puts a clear emphasis on the commercial statement. Karan at first complained about the timing, but ultimately was persuaded to fully get behind the pre-collection, working with Peter Speliopoulos, who returned as vice president and design director for the Donna Karan New York brand.

"Right now, business is a real challenge," Karan said. "You can’t sit back and say, ‘I’m so-and-so.’ You cannot rely on your name alone because the sales are not going to happen on a hanger. Melissa feels that as viscerally as I do."

The starting point to the pre-fall collection, they decided, was "black cashmere," a regular in Karan’s repertoire and the name of her latest fragrance, which was further developed into items the designer calls "cashmere plus" — those which are combined with stretch panels or bonded to leather, for instance. There are suits, dresses and lots of knits, as always, but there are also the addition of options that Parker-Lilly believes will better serve retailers by catering to a more diverse customer base.
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