DALLAS — David Dartnell is back. The designer who built David Dart into a $70 million business after he sold it to Kellwood Co. has created an updated misses’ sportswear label called Deed.
“I didn’t think I wanted to come back into the business,” Dartnell said, noting that he took two years off after leaving Kellwood. “I was tired of it. But it’s who I am.”
When he again started playing with design, Dartnell was tempted to go “young, hip and contemporary,” but the demand was for something else entirely.
“I’ve heard from so many women who want to have newer clothes and can’t find them,” he said. “I’m designing for a woman who doesn’t want to look like her daughter but wants to be hip.”
Launched at Intermezzo last spring and at all four regional markets in June, the Deed line is geared to better specialty stores, and it landed NM Direct as its first account.
Neiman’s has sold the looks online and in a catalogue “a little bit better than we had planned,” said Gerald Barnes, general merchandise manager. “Deed is more modern and looks very good,” he said. “It looks different from the David Dart product before.”
Kellwood said it still markets and manufactures David Dart under its Lifestyle Design group, but declined to provide additional information.
“I want to build a brand again,” Dart said. “There is a woman who wants more modern dressing.”
Deed’s extensive spring collection is all about color and detail, including fabric paneling, beading and embroidery. An “Italian getaway” group is colored in azure, mint and tomato red mixed with natural and white. Working with silk crinkle georgette and stretch cotton twill, Dartnell fashioned a kimono-sleeve tunic, long, full skimming skirts and layering shells.
“The goal is to keep it special and novel, and to continue to move and keep it new,” the designer said. “We’re coming off a very item-driven industry. But there is a customer who wants it all together, and if you’ve got it, she’ll buy it. The trend is a bunch of everything, but I’d rather make a statement with a collection.”
Deed wholesales from $47 for a shell to $168 for a novelty jacket or dress, and Dartnell said he “realistically” expects $3 million in first-year sales. The name Deed is a variation on his initials and a vague reference to “doing a good deed.”
Before he got back in business, Dartnell took it easy for a couple of years at his 200-year-old estate in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans. His home was unscathed by Hurricane Katrina, and he still adores the city.
“I go there to regroup,” he said. “The city is in complete disarray, but I can find peace there. New Orleans has such aesthetic beauty, with its architecture and live oaks and horticulture. That’s where I go to mellow out, and at the same time it keeps me real.”