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Kay Unger Exits Post at Namesake Brand

She is leaving the company to focus on philanthropy and other creative endeavors.

NEW YORK — Kay Unger, cofounder and creative director of Kay Unger New York and Phoebe Couture, is leaving the company to focus on philanthropy and other creative endeavors.

This story first appeared in the July 2, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“I’ve been toying with it for quite a while,” said Unger, 67, who told the staff Friday. She said her primary focus will be the Steven Julius Foundation, which she started with her two grown sons in 2010. The foundation is primarily committed to cancer research and care and to funding scholarships for inner-city children in the visual arts through Parsons The New School for Design. “I have several million dollars in there, and I’m so passionate about it,” said Unger.

Unger co-founded Kay Unger New York in 1995 with Rob Feinberg, chief executive officer. The privately held firm will continue under Feinberg. The company launched Phoebe Couture as a younger, spirited brand in 2007. Both labels, which generate more than $30 million in wholesale sales volume, are carried in specialty and department stores throughout the U.S., such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor, and in 20 international markets. In 2007, freestanding Kay Unger and Phoebe Couture boutiques were opened throughout China and Seoul.

“After founding three companies, interacting with thousands of loyal customers and designing clothes that make women look and feel their best, it is time for me to focus on my other passions,” said Unger, who also plans to travel, work on her sculpture, and continue collecting art.

“Kay’s creative spirit has been at the heart of our brands, and while we are sad to see her depart, we are confident in our future success thanks in part to the great example she has set,” said Feinberg. He said the firm, which manufactures mostly dresses, is positioned for the future with a team of designers who will continue to carry the Kay Unger and Phoebe Couture brands forward.

“Kay and I have worked together for 32 years. I’ve outlasted two husbands. This was her decision,” said Feinberg, who said they’ve been talking about this for the past nine months. “Kay wouldn’t have left if we weren’t [well] positioned. Her name is very important to her.” Kay Unger New York will own the rights to Unger’s name. She will no longer own the company, which is majority owned by Feinberg, with some private investors.

Prior to forming Kay Unger New York, Unger was the creative head and co-founder of The Gillian Group, which included the St. Gillian and A.J. Bari lines. Before that, she had her own namesake line using Liberty of London prints. She started her career at Geoffrey Beene after graduating from Parsons.