NEW YORK — Donna Karan considers herself a purist when it comes to well-being.
She was a yoga proponent long before it became fashionable; juice bars in her DKNY boutiques offer wheatgrass concoctions as a hydrating alternative, and even her DKNY’s Be Delicious fragrance comes in the shape of a nutritious apple.
Now, the designer wants to step up that mood in her fashions, too. Donna Karan International is looking to intensify its Pure DKNY label, which was launched in stores under the DKNY umbrella in spring 1999. As part of that plan, the division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton will open stand-alone Pure shop-in-shops in select department stores worldwide for spring, and it’s adding a complete collection of Pure accessories, shoes and men’s wear to the women’s wear and home collections. Down the road, there could even be freestanding Pure shops.
To underscore the Pure growth initiative, the company also created a separate brand book featuring a collage of black-and-white images depicting the lifestyle Pure represents.
“I think about my beach house when I think of Pure,” Karan said. “It’s part of you that’s not urban and running around, it’s the calm you, the comfort you. It’s like hugging somebody. To me, pure and yoga stand hand in hand.”
Pure’s concept was conceived at a time when Donna Karan was looking to reconcile her life in the city with her weekends in the Hamptons. Karan and Jane Chung, executive vice president of DKNY Design, were looking for an even simpler system of dressing, with a more relaxed attitude and pieces that can easily be thrown on.
Mary Wang, DKNY’s president, said Pure has been a small business since its launch, but it noticed a jump in sales during the past year-and-a-half.
“The sell-throughs had improved significantly,” Wang said. “Last spring, they were in excess of 65 percent in department and specialty stores, and over 70 percent in our own stores. So we started talking to stores about separate Pure areas, and decided to expand it into other categories of men’s, handbags and shoes.”
For spring, the collection includes Japanese techniques from indigo yarn dyes to discharge prints and ikats. Fabrics are light and typically revolve around linens, cottons, chambrays, silks, washed wools and denims. For instance, the collection features chinos and slouchy pocketed silk linen cargos, some of which have elements such as floral prints or embroidery. “There is a system of dressing in Pure — the seven easy pieces,” Karan explained. “That’s why it seems so perfect to what we are.”
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This spring, Pure also will launch shoes and handbags. The handbag collection includes straw totes with an interior silk cord that features the dictionary definition of the term pure on it. There are also soft tote-like handbags in Cuoio leathers and reversible fabric bags.
“I think the timing is right for this, because I feel we present a different kind of choice for customers in their casual needs,” Wang said. “The recent jeans and T-shirt phenomenon has been great, but people who want to wear different choices don’t really have a lot of places to go. I think that’s why our utilitarian cargos and our soft, ethnic-inspired dressing have gotten a huge demand at retail. People want to have other things to choose besides designer jeans and cropped Ts.”
This spring, separate Pure areas are scheduled to open at Bloomingdale’s on Lexington Avenue and Selfridges and Harvey Nichols in London, as well as freestanding DKNY stores. They typically will range in size between 300 and 500 square feet. The shop-in-shops will feature a mixture of elements such as wood, stone, metal and soft accessories such as pillowcases.
Pure was launched seven years ago with one delivery each season, but since then, has added a second delivery. As part of the renewed focus, the company decided to add a third delivery each season.
“We realized that to sustain separate spaces, we needed to be much more in the flow of the rest of the floor … we couldn’t necessarily sustain that growth with two deliveries, because of the nature of business in department stores and freestanding stores,” Wang said.
Each delivery will have key items such as the drawstring pant, the skirt, the dress, ‘cozies’ (similar to a poncho) and versions of easy, relaxed sweaters.
In the U.S., Pure is sold in about 50 specialty stores and 15 to 20 department store doors. It’s also available in 12 company-owned DKNY stores, of which three are in the U.K., and 50 DKNY stores internationally that are a partnership. The DKNY brand does an estimated retail sales volume of $1.7 billion over all products including licenses.
DKI’s chief executive officer Jeffry Aronsson added it was too early to pinpoint the timing for Pure stores. He and Wang declined to give sales volume information. “It usually hovered below 5 percent in DKNY’s volume dollars, but now it’s in excess of 10 percent of DKNY’s total volume, and that’s against an expanding base,” Wang said. “We would like Pure to stay in a somewhat smallish, elite distribution in fine specialty and elite stores.”
“To see the growth of Pure is very exciting,” Frank Doroff, Bloomingdale’s senior executive vice president and general merchandise manager of ready-to-wear, said. “It’s another great addition to the DNKY line, which is doing really well and is one of the top performers in our New View department. Pure within that is doing well.”
Averyl Oates, buying director at Harvey Nichols in London, said the Pure DKNY collection was so impressive that it deserved its own area within its Knightsbridge flagship. “The collection answered the needs of the modern woman’s wardrobe, with great weekend pieces, perfect workwear and fabulous evening looks,” she said. “It’s rare that you come across a collection that ticks all the boxes the way Pure DKNY does.”
Pure’s wholesale prices for spring range from $32 for knits, $60 for bottoms, $75 for shorts and $145 for jackets to $1,500 for a shearling leather coat.
“We see this as an opportunity to develop something very special and unique within the context of the DKNY brand,” said Aronsson, adding that it is a niche opportunity that “could be quite interesting, and eventually, not only grow in terms of apparel, accessories and shoes, but ultimately into its own freestanding concept as the business develops.”
The decision to bolster Pure has nothing to do with City DKNY’s demise, according to Aronsson. City DKNY was licensed to Liz Claiborne Inc., but will not be renewed after the agreement expires at the end of this year.
“There isn’t the need or urgency to replace anything because our business is a growing business,” Aronsson said. “Such is the opportunity that is reflected in the stellar selling of Pure in its previous form that it’s critical to seize upon this opportunity that presents itself and to develop it in an appropriate way.”
Aronsson added the company is focused on developing the international markets, and is in advanced stages of negotiating developments for breakthroughs in the Far East, with DKNY and Collection stores expected to bow there next year. He would not elaborate any further.
As for potential categories for Pure, Wang singled out candles, beauty and children’s wear. Karan, meanwhile, has no objections to taking the concept even further than that.
“You could take it to anything … it could be Pure food,” she said. “I could see it in juicing. We have our juice bar in the store. To me, nurturing a customer is nurturing yourself. I really think it is an extension of reaching out to people and saying ‘I care.’ I want people to be comfortable and feel sensual. There is nothing better.”