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NEW YORK — A traumatic experience sometimes changes a person’s direction. That’s how it happened for Dorian Lightbown.

For 16 years, Lightbown had been a designer for Sigrid Olsen. She always knew she wanted to do her own thing, but couldn’t seem to find the right moment. Then, tragedy struck and her life took a new path.

“My ex-husband was diagnosed with brain cancer one day, and it seemed like it was the next day and he was gone,” Lightbown explained. “That was when it hit me that life really is short, and I was going to make a change.”

That was one year ago. Lightbown left Sigrid Olsen and went into partnership with Natick, Mass.-based Telluride Clothing Co. to start her own better sportswear line, which is focused around knits, since her specialty is knitwear design. Named Nic & Zoe, after her two children, Lightbown’s line consists of an array of pieces that are meant to mix and match together. There are silk-blend pointelle sweaters, velvet blazers, polyester-Lycra pants and silk and chiffon skirts, all comprising a collection that wholesales from $19 for a simple tank top to $148 for an embroidered sweater coat.

The line just hit stores for spring selling, although Lightbown said she is planning for a big launch for fall and holiday selling.

“I wanted this line to be easy to shop and easy to wear,” she said. “That was really important to me. There’s shelf bras in the tanks and many bra-friendly tops, wearable skirts and great pants that are washable.”

There is also what Lightbown calls the “work it” pants, which are available in black, brown, gray and pinstripe styles. The pants, made of polyester and Lycra, have a flat front for a clean fit, as well as a boot cut.

“These pants have been great for us,” said Julie Jordan Browne, sales manager at the firm, who also worked at Sigrid Olsen and left to join Lightbown in her new venture. “The retailers have told us they fit everyone.”

Targeting specialty retailers, Nic & Zoe has been picked up by 600 stores, including Nordstrom. Brown said the company expects to reach $20 million in first-year sales volume.

This story first appeared in the June 28, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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