LONDON, United Kingdom — When news broke this week that Donna Karan was stepping down as chief designer of her eponymous business, there may have been some sadness but there was not much surprise. The writing had been on the wall for some time.
Indeed, Ms Karan's departure had been foreshadowed in recent years. First, in a public spat with the brand’s owners at LVMH, whom she said were giving her the "cold shoulder," then with the departure of Jane Chung and arrival of Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne at the creative helm of DKNY, and most recently with the exit of Patti Cohen, described as Karan's most loyal employee, who worked with the designer for more than thirty years.
But the biggest indicator of all was that the business was under-performing. When LVMH acquired the company in 2001, Donna Karan owned the energy of New York's bustling downtown scene, leading to the launch of DKNY and its famous mural at the corner of Houston Street and Broadway in Soho, which became a fixture until it was taken down in 2008. DKNY attempted to resurrect the wall in 2013, but by then the brand had become over-distributed, with product destined for outlet stores, and lost its edge to rising New York brands like Alexander Wang.
For the brand to succeed now, it will take new creative energy and a business model that strips out the costs associated with running two separate lines — hence the suspension of the higher-end Donna Karan line and the focus on reinvigorating DKNY under Chow and Osborne. While it's a bit surprising that a brand so closely associated with women is now creatively helmed by two men, there's no doubt that these two guys have their pulse on New York's energy. Whether they can find a new path for DKNY remains to be seen, but the stage is now clearly set for a wholesale reinvention of the business. As for Ms Karan, she will go down as one of America's most legendary fashion designers.
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