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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Is there life after Jones?
Since retiring from the Jones Apparel Group in September 2000, Rena Rowan Damone, the former executive vice president of design, has embarked on an entirely new lifestyle. Married to crooner Vic Damone since 1998, she spends most of her time at her Palm Beach estate, working with a personal trainer and doing yoga three times a week, taking walks, organizing fund-raisers and working on behalf of her charities, writing her memoirs and cooking and entertaining at home.
But she has a bone to pick.
Thirty-three years after establishing Jones New York with Sidney Kimmel, the company’s 76-year-old chairman, it irks her that she’s not credited with co-founding the company. The Jones Web site, in fact, features a time line that lists Kimmel as the sole founder of Jones New York in 1970, and Damone feels she played an equal role in that. Furthermore, Damone remains dismayed by the way she was treated when she retired three years ago, and though she is clearly well-off financially, she admits to several financial missteps over the years.
For most of the 30 years that she was head designer at Jones, Damone was Kimmel’s steady companion and live-in girlfriend. They broke up in fall 1996.
During her 50-hour work weeks, Damone used to shuttle back and forth between Jones headquarters in Bristol, Pa., and New York City, where she headed up the design team for all the company’s products and supervised pattern-making and fittings. In the early Nineties, Damone was earning a phenomenal $6 million a year in salary and was cited by Working Woman magazine in 1993 as the second-highest-paid woman in corporate America, after Turi Josefsen, executive vice president of U.S. Surgical Corp., who earned $23.6 million because of stock options. Damone was one spot ahead of Linda Wachner.
Damone, 75, told WWD that after announcing her retirement from Jones in late 1999, she received a nasty letter from Jackwyn Nemerov, then president of Jones Apparel Group, telling her that the company had eliminated her position as vice president of design, and she was no longer on the company’s payroll as of Feb. 29, 2000. The letter said she was no longer permitted on the company’s premises, her belongings would be sent to her Palm Beach home and that if she wanted to transact any business relating to the company, she needed written authorization from its general counsel, Ira Dansky. In addition, she was told that she would receive monthly payments of $54,166.67, or a payout of $650,000 a year.