By  on January 9, 2012

Abbey Doneger believes in giving back. But tonight, the president of the Doneger Group will be the one getting the spotlight.

Doneger, who is a board member of some of the industry’s best known charities including Kids in Distressed Situations, Fashion Delivers, the Fashion Scholarship Fund (formerly YMA) and the American Apparel & Footwear Association, is being recognized by the Accessories Council for his many contributions to the industry.

Some 500 people are expected to turn out at a cocktail reception at the Morgan Library and Museum to honor Doneger as he is inducted into the group’s Hall of Fame. The event will also serve as a celebration of the Doneger Group’s 65th anniversary and a percentage of the evening’s proceeds will be earmarked for the Henry Doneger Scholarship Fund and the Accessories Design Program at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The Doneger Group was founded in 1946 by the late Henry Doneger, the father of Abbey, who has spent his entire life immersed in the business. The company, which started out as a traditional buying office for retailers, has morphed into a market leader providing advisory services, seasonal merchandising direction, and current business and market analysis to stores on all aspects of men’s, women’s and children’s apparel and accessories.

While the company has transformed under Abbey Doneger’s watchful eye, he also retained a keen sense of the past.

“My very first job in this company in the summers and during vacations between high school and college was in the accessories department,” Doneger said. “It was a great introduction into the industry and the company. The accessories market is filled with really creative people and I enjoy working with them.”

Over the years, Doneger has seen a seismic shift in the importance of the accessories market. “The accessories business has become a driver of retail sales,” he said. “Accessories are a great way to liven up a woman’s wardrobe and the business has grown exponentially over the past few years.”

When he started in the business, he recalled, retailers looked at accessories almost as an afterthought. “It was like: ‘Oh, by the way, we have accessories.’ But today, they’re front and center and drive business,” he said. “They’re key to growth.”

The designer component of the business, in particular, has “exploded,” he said, bringing the more moderate piece of the market along for the ride.

“The consumer wants what the consumer sees from an aspirational perspective,” he said. “So if a designer business is good, that eventually flows down to all levels of distribution.” Accessories have also grown in importance within the Doneger Group itself as the category has flexed its muscle. Just over a year ago, Doneger brought on an industry veteran to oversee the area and charged her with “continuing to grow and enhance the accessories business.”

Patty Leto, senior vice president of merchandising, who spent more than two decades at Macy’s and was also at the Jones Apparel Group, came to the job with primarily a juniors background, but “that lends itself to the accessories market,” she said. “Like juniors, it’s very fast and there’s always something new happening.”

Over the past five years, Leto, who is also on the board of the Accessories Council, said there’s been a “shift” toward accessories as the ready-to-wear and missy categories became more challenged. This has benefited not only high-end luxury brands but the better part of the moderate business at department stores, as well.

“Each category has a classification that drives the business,” she added. Fashion accessories are driven by cold-weather items in the fall and she expects pieces such as scarves and hats to continue to dominate into spring. “Even though cold-weather accessories were hurt by the weather this winter, we’re still seeing sales of fur and technical influences in gloves.”

In the jewelry business, she said, “it’s all about earrings and wrists again.” And when the spring wardrobes — and open necklines — begin to make their appearance, retailers should see a surge in the sale of chokers, she predicted.

Small leather goods, always an engine of the category, are also getting a boost from a trend toward personalization. Monogrammed handbags and belts are making a mark along with an influx of color. “Color is such an important message for spring,” she said.

Doneger believes that surrounding himself with merchants such as Leto is what has allowed Doneger Group to survive and prosper all these years.

“My father always said if you hire good people and provide a good service, you’ll always have a good business,” he said.

Although he is honored to be joining the Accessories Council’s Hall of Fame, likening it to being inducted into “Cooperstown,” he is quick to share the accolade. “I feel this is more of a company acknowledgment than a personal one,” he said. “The accessories business is a very important part of everything we do here at the Doneger Group. I agreed to accept the award because it’s our 65th anniversary and it’s a nice recognition of our history as a company. And the money raised is going to the scholarship fund. That’s the reality.”

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