KARAN CONFIRMS PATTI COHEN RETURNING AS EXECUTIVE VP

Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — She’s back.
Patti Cohen is returning to Donna Karan International, confirming a report in WWD March 22. Cohen, who left the company in November after 15 years heading up the public relations area — and serving as something of an alter ego to the designer — has a new title: She is executive vice president of global marketing and communications, reporting directly to Karan and chief executive officer John D. Idol.
The appointment caps off a futile four- month search for a successor.
“During the search, I kept saying, ‘I want Patti,”‘ said Karan in a phone interview from Singapore, where she is vacationing. “Finally, we realized there is only one Patti.
“The reality is, Patti just needed a vacation,” Karan joked. Cohen will start April 3.
“I feel really good about it,” Cohen said from her home here Wednesday. “It’s like coming home, but it’s also a great opportunity for me because there’s the new challenge of marketing.”
“I am extraordinarily excited,” said Idol, “because Patti has been and will be a terrific member of this team. The fact that Donna and I went and asked her to consider this new role and the fact that she agreed is a great thing. She is one of the most talented people in the industry.”
Cohen, who was Karan’s first employee, has always had a symbiotic relationship with the designer, and has been credited with helping spread the corporate image as it grew to an estimated $1 billion in worldwide sales.
“She is my voice,” Karan has often said of Cohen, who has done everything from run the fashion shows to chat with Wall Street analysts.
“She understands the growth and the breadth of the company’s history, and of me,” Karan said Wednesday. “She’s been communicating with the world on so many different levels, not only dealing with editors and stores and events, but really getting out there and understanding the brands, the stores and the licensees.”
When asked if it might look to analysts like Cohen’s return meant Karan was holding on to the past instead of moving toward the future, Idol said: “I don’t see that as an issue at all. Patti decided to take a break and you can’t begrudge anybody that. I think it bodes well for our company that a seasoned executive is returning to be part of our team. The chemistry is already there. It will be like we didn’t miss a beat.”
As for Cohen’s new responsibilities in marketing, Idol said: “Last November, when we restructured, we had decided to put marketing together with public relations. The two are often so connected. When Donna does a personal appearance, is that p.r. or marketing?”
Trey Laird, who had been handling marketing, is now executive vice president of corporate imaging and creative services, and has new responsibilities that include all store design. With Karan’s ambitious retail plans he has more than enough to keep him busy, said Idol. In addition, “We are really going after e-commerce, and Trey will play a major role in that,” Idol said. Idol would not comment on Cohen’s salary, signing bonus or the terms of her contract.
One thing is for sure: Cohen wants her wall back. The wall, a collage of 15 years’ worth of press coverage that she assembled from her first day on the job, has been sitting in Karan’s office since Cohen left.
“That’s the first thing everybody asks me: ‘What did you do with the wall?”‘ said Cohen.

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