WHIRLING DERVISHES

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Reality-based television programs like “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” might not have a strong fashion element to them, but QVC — one of the bastions of home shopping — came pretty close to replicating their successful formula on Saturday morning.
The network donated 10 minutes of air time during its most popular programming slot of the week, right in the middle of its women’s fashion shopping spree, “AM Style,” to help promote the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s latest philanthropic initiative, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion for America campaign. But there was a catch — designers Donna Karan and Michael Kors had to make a mad helicopter dash at dawn to its studios in West Chester, Pa., to help sell the $22.50 T-shirts they unveiled last week as part of the campaign.
Being big supporters of Fashion for America, which is raising funds to benefit Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s Twin Towers Fund in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Karan and Kors were more than up for the mission. But they weren’t exactly ready for what was in store.
8 a.m.: The designers take off in separate helicopters in a race to make an 8:30 a.m. arrival deadline at QVC’s sprawling studio campus. Team Karan takes off from a pier on Manhattan’s West Side Highway shortly after 8 a.m. Karan says it’s Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s involvement that’s inspired her to be up so early. Team Kors was already in the air, having arisen at 5:30 a.m. to catch a ferry from the designers’ Fire Island weekend house over to a Long Island airstrip in Islip.
Normally, the odds would have been on Kors, given the designers’ prior track records in punctuality. But Karan keeps an eye on the clock once airborne, and 45 minutes later, hers is the first chopper to touch ground at an executive landing strip just a few blocks from the QVC studios. Darlene Daggett, the network’s executive vice president of merchandising, whisks the designer, her hair stylist and makeup artist, her publicist and a reporter into twin SUVs, slightly delayed by an errant Gucci bag left behind on the helicopter.
9 a.m.: Team Karan arrives at QVC’s offices. The entourage walks briskly through what seems like an endless marble shopping mall. Impressed, Karan says, “If things ever get really bad, I can always come out here.” Passing an atrium and an enormous food court, Karan finally reaches the “green room,” where she is greeted by a familiar face to QVC devotees, CFDA president Stan Herman, who’s been on the air selling sweaters since eight. Karan is rushed into hair and makeup, while the rest of the team makes for trays of scrambled eggs, bacon and coffee.
9:10 a.m.: Karan’s ready just as Team Kors rushes in to the room. “You won’t need any makeup,” Herman says to Kors. “You already look flush.”
“I’m always flustered!” Kors replies. “I’m the Jewish Valentino!” The designers inspect QVC’s T-shirts, which have been manufactured through different factories than the ones that go on sale at major department stores around the country on Thursday.
“Do we have a model for these?” Karan asks. “Who is it?”
“Yes, but no famous models,” Herman says. “It’s not Gisele.”
“Do we get to see what we’ll look like on TV?” she replies. “You know I’m light obsessed.”
9:20 a.m.: Someone calls Herman back to the set. From the green room, Karan and Kors watch as item number A-26289 comes on the screen, a mock turtleneck sweater with cable-knit detail. It retails for $85, but is QVC “value-priced” at $49. Wrapping up the segment, Herman exclaims, “I forgot to talk about the sleeves!” Too late.
9:30 a.m.: Karan and Kors are called onto the set. They’re supposed to talk and take calls for 10 minutes. QVC’s Jane Brown greets them. “I’ve been a fan of your fashion for so many years,” she says. “Donna, you do such a wonderful job with sportswear, and Michael, your traditional, classic and very figure-focused items have been so phenomenal.”
Item A-0633 is introduced. Priced at $22.50, the “mended heart” T-shirt is planned to ship for Oct. 30, but someone frantically yells in Brown’s headset that QVC has already sold so many that new orders won’t ship until Nov. 5. Shipping and handling is $4.22. Karan talks about how the initiative began. “Everyone’s asking, ‘What can we do? How can we help?’ and then the Mayor says, ‘Shop.’ You’re always looking for inspiration as a designer and he was our inspiration. You’re shopping for our economy, shopping for the people. It’s really important. That’s exactly what it is — mending our hearts.”
Almost 3,200 people are on the phone. Backstage, someone asks how many operators are on duty. “500.” The queue is backing up. 3,500 callers just seconds later. More than 10,000 T-shirts have been sold.
Karen from Arizona calls in: “I was just so excited because I saw Donna Karan. I’ve been a fan of hers for years,” she says. “It makes America heal so much faster to have them involved.”
“I think it’s great that we share the same name,” Karan replies. “And now we can share the same T-shirt.”
There are 4,000 callers on the line…4,100. Callers are getting a busy signal, something that hasn’t happened at QVC in the 12 years that Daggett’s worked there. A critical decision is made off camera and instructions are whispered in Brown’s headset.
9:37 a.m.: “Well, listen, we have to wrap this up,” Brown says. “We’re so busy on the phone lines because if you’re calling now, you’re probably getting busy signals, and that doesn’t happen very often.”
9:40 a.m.: Karan and Kors come back into the green room. “What happened?” Karan asks. “We didn’t even do anything! It’s weird. We just stood there. I want to sell more. That’s why I came out here.”
Bob Ayd, senior vice president, soft lines merchandising and brand marketing, explains that caller volume had spiked so unexpectedly that they had to cut to a commercial, just to handle the volume. But the designers want to go back on. Kors says he’s already enlisted Betsey Johnson to come next time. “She wants to do a cartwheel,” he says.
“My m.o. is a minimum of $4 million,” Karan says. “I don’t want anything less.”
“If you want to go back on, you can go back out at the end of the show,” Daggett concedes, and the designers are remiked.
Astounded at the reaction, they look to Herman for an explanation. “Do you know how many robes I sell here in a day?” he asks. “Ninety thousand in one robe. I just sold 2,000 of those sweaters.” And he didn’t even talk about the sleeve.
10 a.m.: Walking back to the set, Karan says, “Man, I’m coming on QVC. Can I bring the clothes we haven’t sold from the store yet?”
She turns to Kors, and asks, “Do you think we’re making a difference? Honestly?”
“Yes,” he says. “That woman who called — she said she called because she saw you. And what time could it have been there? She was calling from Arizona!”
“Oh,” Karan replies. “I wonder if she was hiking?”
Back on the air, the designers are determined to sell. “Stud it. Diamond it. Paint on it. You can give it as a present,” Karan says. “It’s the best present you can give to yourself, or to someone else.”
“I like it the way it is!” Brown adds.
Someone named Frances calls in. “Hello, Michael. Hello, Donna. How are you? I’m trying to help in every way that I can, so everything that you’ve had on, I’ve ordered.”
Brown chimes in, “I’m so glad that you dialed in and had an opportunity to talk to two of the hottest fashion designers in New York, that I can’t even believe that I’m standing next to right now. And I’m just about to bust!” 22,000 Ts are now spoken for. The latest orders won’t ship before mid-November.
“Being able to touch everybody is what it’s all about,” Karan says.
10:15 a.m.: Heading out of the studios, Karan and Kors want to know how many Ts have been sold. Ayd says, “We really don’t know. The orders keep coming and coming and coming.” [More than 45,000 were sold by Monday, QVC officials say later.] The designers exit by a different route, through a warehouse where thousands of boxes filled with teddy bears are lined up in neat rows. This gives Karan another idea. Selling teddy bears wearing the “mended-heart” T-shirt. “It has to be on in time for the holidays,” she says.
Daggett promises to look into it.

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