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NEW YORK — Fred Wilson, the new chief executive officer of Donna Karan International, is moving quickly to restructure the company, naming two division presidents and a new design director for the Donna Karan New York brand on Tuesday — his sixth day on the job.
Two of the hires are familiar faces to Donna Karan: Mary Wang, a former DKNY women’s president who was most recently president of the U.S. wholesale division of Coach, will rejoin the company as president of DKNY, while Peter Speliopoulos, once Karan’s senior design director of women’s collection and accessories before taking up with the Cerruti Arte collection, was named vice president and design director for the Donna Karan New York brand. Carol Sharpe, who was executive vice president of merchandising at J. Crew until May, was also named president of retail, including licensed freestanding stores.
What’s more, Wilson said in an exclusive interview that he is simultaneously restructuring the company by realigning its two principal brands, Donna Karan New York and DKNY, into separate divisions with their own presidents. The company was previously structured by product and gender, with separate heads directing women’s, men’s and shoes and accessories for both brands.
“The significance of this announcement is not just that we’re moving quickly to shore up the infrastructure with the key hires of quality people, but also that there is a restructuring that is taking place simultaneously,” said Wilson, the former president and ceo of LVMH Fashion Group, America’s, who was named ceo of DKI on Sept. 30, replacing Pino Brusone, who remains its chairman.
The corporate structure of Donna Karan has undergone significant changes since LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton acquired the American brand for $643 million last year, capped by a 7 percent workforce reduction in December. Don Witkowski, who was president of Donna Karan men’s wear, left the firm in October to join Nautica Enterprises as president, while Carol Kerner, who was president of the Donna Karan and DKNY women’s lines, resigned in May. Those positions have since remained vacant.
During his first week on the job, Wilson said, it was a clear priority to recruit heads of each brand, noting that a president of the Donna Karan New York collection will be named soon. While many DKI employees have split their time working on both Donna Karan and DKNY collections, Wilson said it makes more sense to operate by brand, with employees of each division reporting directly to a brand president, rather than multiple supervisors.
“This way, we’re sure we will have a better brand focus,” Wilson said. “We’ll target our customer better and it will help us to be more efficient and effective as we work toward furthering the brand development.”
For the second time in her career, Wang had left DKNY, where she headed the women’s line for four years, in 1999 to join Emanuel as its president, but quit shortly thereafter to join Tommy Hilfiger in its ill-fated development of a career line, and then moved to Daryl K as women’s president under its tenuous Pegasus Apparel Group ownership before landing in the more stable position at Coach. Earlier, she was vice president of merchandising at DKNY from its inception in 1989 to 1994, and has maintained a strong relationship with both Karan and Jane Chung, executive vice president of DKNY design.
“She can make very important and very quick contributions to the company,” Wilson said.
Chung had once been rumored to be in line to take over as design director of Collection, during a long period of rumors that Karan would be taking a more strategic role within her own company. Wilson, who had not met Karan prior to joining DKI, said the two are off to a great start and emphasized that her position as chief designer remains intact.
“Donna remains absolutely, absolutely, positively the head of creation here,” Wilson said. “We have been involved together in all of these discussions. I really value her as a partner.”
Karan was involved in an advertising meeting related to DKNY on Tuesday and was not available for comment. However, she said in a statement, “Having Peter and Mary here again will allow me to work on the strategic vision and growth of our company. Both Peter and Mary played vital roles in the history and success of Donna Karan New York and DKNY, respectively. Likewise, I am confident that Carol’s new energy and expertise will greatly benefit the company.”
As reported in WWD on Sept. 12, Speliopoulos was said to have been approached for the job. Most recently creative director at Cerruti Arte until December, Speliopoulos had been senior design director of women’s collection and accessories from 1993 to 1997 at Donna Karan. In his new post, he will report to Karan, Wilson and a collection president.
“Peter’s reputation from working here before was excellent,” Wilson said. “His working relationship with Donna was excellent. Donna values him and we went after him.”
While Wilson declined to outline his strategic vision for continuing the work to restore the Donna Karan labels to their former luxury status, the ceo is clearly more confident in the realm of the Karan empire than his predecessor and is considered a straight shooter, with an ability to clearly articulate a position from both business and creative standpoints, which could suit him well in dealings with Karan.
“She is smart, creative and extremely knowledgeable of the business itself, as well as the industry,” Wilson said. “And she’s fun to work with. I think she’s practical, creative and very sensible in terms of understanding women. She makes a lot of sense to me.”