NEW YORK — Paul R. Charron is living proof that you don’t have to be a fashion plate to run a fashion company.

"I’ve never been accused of being a merchant, and I’m certainly not a designer, but I do consider myself a product person," explained Charron, chairman and chief executive of Liz Claiborne Inc. and the honoree at last Thursday’s big black-tie Parsons School of Design Benefit & Fashion Show.

Everyone agrees, however, that Charron is one of Seventh Avenue’s born leaders, and one of the most successful, for steadily building up and diversifying the Claiborne business. The evening raised more than $1.4 million for scholarships and programs at Parsons and drew 700 fashion and retail executives, among them Marvin and Lee Traub, Denise Seegal, Hal Kahn, Sue Kronick, Steve McCracken, Abbey Doneger, Kirk Palmer, Dana Buchman, Patrick Spainhour, Larry Leeds, Lavelle Olexa, and Arnold Aronson, who serves as vice chair of the New School University Board of Trustees. Parsons is a division of New School University.

The most emotional part of the evening was when Parsons announced the establishment of a scholarship fund to honor Herbert Gallen, founder of Ellen Tracy, which he sold to Claiborne. Through the generosity of Gallen and many of his friends, an endowment of $500,000 has been established in his name that will provide a full tuition scholarship in perpetuity to an outstanding fashion design senior each year.

Gallen, who recently visited with Parsons students and saw their work, said he developed a paternal feeling for them.

"Some of them I’d like to take home. They are wonderful," he said, addressing the crowd. "Never before have I felt so much like saying thank you," then he paused, clearly choked up by his moment in the spotlight.

This year, Parsons limited the number of seniors who could show their designs during the benefit’s fashion show by creating a "jury of selection," including designers, journalists, manufacturers and retailers. There are 110 seniors, but only 14 thesis collections and four special projects were represented on the runway. "This is difficult for the students and they all work so incredibly hard," said Randy Swearer, dean of Parsons. However, he felt that having a more competitive and less democratic fashion show at the benefit would be a good lesson for the students in helping them prepare for the real world. Then, in perhaps the understatement of the evening, Swearer said: "This industry is very competitive."

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