Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — Ready-to-wear designer Karen Darby Scott is coming out of the dark.
A year and a half ago, in September 1998, Scott was hit with devastating news. Eight months pregnant and also the mother of a two-year-son, she learned her husband, Matthew Scott, a partner in her firm and a sugar trader, had died in the plane crash of Swissair Flight 111.
But somehow, Scott, who founded the business with her husband in 1994, has not let tragedy knock her down.
After a four-month break from the business following her husband’s death, Scott threw herself into her work, which she described as “her solace, her lifeline.”
Since last June, she has been making steps to expand beyond her pricy eveningwear and cocktail dresses to include suits and handbags. Both categories will be launched for fall.
Scott also just signed a joint venture deal with Ortman Sheff, a high-end jewelry manufacturer here, to produce a line for holiday delivery. And she is in talks to develop a high-end footwear collection.
Scott acknowledged the tragedy had changed her approach to her business, making her “less tentative, less afraid” to take risks.
“I’ve been through the most horrible thing that anyone can ever face,” said Scott, in a recent interview at her showroom at 260 West 39th Street. “If I fail, so what? What could be worse?”
This year, Scott’s wholesale volume should reach $1.2 million, up from last year’s $800,000.
To her surprise, the designer said, her four-month absence from the firm did not hurt its bottom line in 1999. Sales increasing by $200,000 over the prior year.
Scott added that her five-member team all pitched in to help keep the business running.
The Darby Scott label is currently sold in about 40 doors, including Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Jacobson’s. She is expecting an additional 20 doors for fall with her expansion.
“We’ve had success with Darby,” said James Aguiar, fashion director of rtw at Bergdorf’s, which plans to spotlight her, along with designers Elizabeth Filmore and Angel Sanchez, in a special area for fall.
“We consider her a new breed of dressmakers that we want to feature,” Aguiar said.
Scott’s 30-style suit and daywear separates collection offers many silhouettes that have been successful in her eveningwear line. There’s a day-into-dinner duster coat with scalloped trim in tissue crepe and an evening version in silk shantung.
There are also sleeveless tops with shirred sides in embossed leopard print silk blends. The evening counterpart is in silk shantung.
Other suit and separates are a kimono jacket in silk brocade, a patent leather bomber jacket and a brown wool top, paired with a bilevel brown leather skirt with a side zipper. Fall’s evening lineup includes shantung and taffeta ballgown skirts as well as long-sleeved silk dresses with lace embellishments.
Scott’s daywear collection wholesales from $250 to $800. Her eveningwear wholesales from $575 to $1,800.
Scott’s handbag collection, offered in 45 styles, comes in alligator and lizard, as well as silk shantung, and handles are in semiprecious stones.
Scott’s transition to working full-time again hasn’t been easy, she said.
Her husband had been her sounding board and her financial adviser. He also constantly pushed her to try harder during the down cycles of her business, she said.
Scott admitted she still had bad days, but nothing can compare with the “emotional mess” she felt right after the plane crash. Then, she not only had to deal with her own grief, but also had to wrestle with how to break the news to her son, William Harrison.
“I was asking myself, ‘How am I ever going to run this business as well as raise two children?”‘ she said.
Somehow, she has managed both. During the months she was off, Scott spent much of her time making sure her older son “felt secure.” (He is doing well and is in school, she said.)
Then there was a week-long hospital stay a month after the crash when she gave birth to her second son, Alexander. She was frantically sketching designs for a fashion show for 600 people in Dallas, slated for the following February and too late to be canceled.
“If someone told me this was going to happen to me, I would have never believed I could have survived,” Scott said.