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NEW YORK — Nicole Miller and Donnkenny Inc. want to bring a young designer sensibility to better-priced sportswear and ready-to-wear with the Nicole Miller New York line.

The addition of better-priced sportswear, along with related separates and suits, all produced under license by Donnkenny, helps round out the brand’s offerings. The two companies completed the licensing agreement in February. Nicole Miller, which has 30 of its own stores, already produces the new Nicole Miller Signature premium line, the core Nicole Miller Collection and the contemporary Miller Girl lines. There is also a collection of housewares sold at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Even though the designer has put together her signature line for 22 years, Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, said attaching the “young designer” description to the new collection is appropriate. “Her take has always been on the young side of everything,” he said.

Konheim searched for a vendor to make better-priced products bearing the designer’s name for two years, eventually signing on with Donnkenny, under the guidance of chairman and ceo Daniel Levy. Before that, trust was the big sticking point, breaking apart at least one deal.

“We never contemplated licensing clothing, mainly because I just wouldn’t trust anybody in clothing,” Konheim said. “When we both met Dan, it was like a breath of fresh air in the garment center.”

Konheim said it would have taken at least five years for Nicole Miller to develop the sourcing and retail relationships to properly enter the better area on its own.

Better-priced sportswear has been an active segment of the market, with the launch this season of Michael Michael Kors coming after new and revamped introductions from high-powered names such as Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Jones New York.

The new line “marries beautifully to the parent brand,” said Elissa Bromer, group president of Nicole Miller at Donnkenny. Bromer joined the firm earlier this year after serving as president of the Perry Ellis women’s division of Public Clothing Co.

Better separates will be the largest portion of this offering. For spring, Bromer plans to have the separates in 800 stores, while suits will roll out to 500 locations and sportswear to 350. Konheim estimated the offerings will produce sales of about $10 million during their first season.

This story first appeared in the September 21, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Donnkenny also produces Nicole Miller women’s coats, which are in about 100 shops, with 500 doors projected for fall 2005.

Sophia Tezel is designing the better-priced lines with direction from Miller. Tezel had her own collection in the Nineties and previously worked for the designer.

The line mirrors Miller’s higher-end collections — for instance, interpreting the Celtic runway looks through T-shirts printed with Celtic symbols.

“Our goal for sportswear was to make it look like young designer,” Bromer said. “Too many people out there are trying to be contemporary.”

The sportswear, under the Nicole Miller New York label, has a flirty, casual sensibility and includes such looks as white crocheted tops and skirts with butterfly detailing.

Jackets from the collection wholesale for $75 to $95, while blouses go for $35 to $45 and pants for $45 to $55.

“‘Sexy’ is no longer a dirty word,” Bromer said. “This woman wants to look sexy even though she’s going to the grocery store.”

The related separates portion of the line is called NicKnits and includes some novelty printing, such as a living-room scene, capelets and a nod to bridal heavily adorned with beads.

Starting with February magazines, the Nicole Miller brand overall will be backed up by a $3.5 million ad budget for spring.

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