On the Road to Recovery: As Donna's Knee Mends, So Does DKNY

Donna Karan, who is recovering from a broken knee, is also experiencing a recovery in her DKNY business, which she shows today.

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Today’s DKNY show will take place at the Algonquin, the legendary hotel that once played host to the Round Table lunch of literary legends led by Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley. This follows the spring presentation in September, which was held at Pastis with 24 mannequins lounging about on the bar and at tables.

The more intimate show venue and low-key presentation are indicative of the overall direction the brand is taking. Where once DKNY was about big fashion shows with thumping music and of-the-moment models, it is now giving press and buyers a chance to see the clothes up-close in a quiet, quality environment.

But DKNY is not abandoning the tents altogether. The company hired models to distribute its spring ad campaign, which resembles a broadsheet newspaper picturing Manhattan street life and style, at Bryant Park this week.

The changes are part of a bigger plan of reinstating some of DKNY’s core values that appeared to have gone astray over the years, and a turnaround at DKNY will be key to improving Donna Karan International’s future at LVMH.

Launched in 1988, DKNY was never intended to be a watered-down version of Collection, but instead targeted the lifestyle of a young, busy New York woman. DKNY quickly expanded into categories like DKNY Active, DKNY Jeans, DKNY Juniors and City DKNY, all of which are licensed to Liz Claiborne Inc., as well as other licensed categories such as watches, sunglasses, underwear  and fragrances.

“This is not a diffusion line, it’s a line that has its own personality and its own individualism,” said DKNY president Mary Wang. “It’s not as easy as taking the jacket from Collection and making it in a cheaper fabric.”

At the time of its launch, DKNY was a dominant force in bridge areas, but as department store business became more challenging so did DKNY’s core business. The brand also lost market share as customers flocked to Theory, Elie Tahari, Banana Republic and even J.Crew, which offered a fresh take on fashion with item-driven merchandise. 

“Whenever you have a brand that is 15 years old, you will have unique challenges,” Wang conceded. “For us, the early years were definitely incredibly explosive and the growth was in leaps and bounds because Donna was the first to do this. Here we are, 15 years later, and there are a lot more people in the competitive marketplace.”
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