Byline: Rich Wilner

NEW YORK — After a less-than-extended two-week “retirement,” dress designer Kay Unger has returned to Seventh Avenue as the chief designer for Phoebe Co., a recently formed bridge to upper-bridge dress house.
Phoebe, at 230 West 38th St., was founded by Robert Feinberg, who worked with Unger at The Gillian Group for 15 years, before the once highly successful dress house closed its doors in January.
Unger, who was a founder and partner at Gillian, said she considered retirement when Gillian spun to a stop “in order to spend more time with my family.” But, she said, one call from Feinberg and some spirited encouragement from several retailers convinced her to join Phoebe, where she is leading the design of the Kay Unger New York and Kay Unger Evening dress lines.
“The line is designed more for a lifestyle than for a time of day,” Unger said last week in a interview. “The collection will range from day through to the dressiest evening” and will wholesale from $90 to $200.
Unger noted that nearly the entire core group of designers at Gillian has signed on at Phoebe, including Ted Duckworth, who had designed for A.J. Bari. She said she feels the smaller operation will afford her the opportunity to “do things we always wanted to do: dresses that are very womanly — not everything to everyone, but very sexy.”
“We will only sell the line to stores whom we think can sell it,” she said, adding that other stores will be offered a private label collection.
Feinberg said he got backing for his firm from a Korean conglomerate of suppliers, whose names he would not specify.
He said the Kay Unger line will focus on “clothes you can wear nine months of the year. That’s reality. We are not going to get too heavy or ship too early. We will ship wool not in June, but in September.”
Noting his company will aim to provide newness along with proper timing, Feinberg asserted: “I think the bridge market has been the weakest area at retail because of a lack of newness.”
Both Unger and Feinberg are philosophical about the demise of Gillian, whose apparently sudden downturn surprised and shocked many in the industry.
“It was clear toward the end of 1994 that it was coming to an end,” Feinberg said. “The worst part of it was that the final decision to close the doors was made by the factors. We didn’t even know what was coming in day-to-day. The funny thing is, we had a great spring. Rumors and inconsistency hurt us.”
Unger said that Gillian, like many firms, “had trouble making the transition from the Eighties to the Nineties.”
“The company found it hard to downsize and change its focus, change to a more forward-thinking collection, try to be less at the mercy of stores,” she said. “At Gillian, we couldn’t tell the stores, through the dresses, what we believed in.”
As reported, Gilian Group recently filed liquidating Chapter 11 petitions in bankruptcy court here. — Fairchild News Service