Betsy Parkinson in one of her Normandy & Monroe designs.

NEW YORK — It’s a long way from Little Rock, Ark., to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but that’s just where Normandy & Monroe sees its new women’s outerwear residing.<br><br>Normandy & Monroe will be setting up shop today...

NEW YORK — It’s a long way from Little Rock, Ark., to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but that’s just where Normandy & Monroe sees its new women’s outerwear residing.

This story first appeared in the January 27, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Normandy & Monroe will be setting up shop today and Wednesday in the D&D Building showroom of Scalamandré, whose home furnishing fabrics were favored by William Randolph Hearst and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Known for its preppy men’s wear, Normandy & Monroe uses some Scalamandré fabrics in its women’s outerwear.

Inspired by on-the-move New York socialites, the collection consists of town coats and special-occasion coats featuring luxury fabrics from such firms as Scalamandré and Loro Piana. Fitted silhouettes, sweetheart necklines, princess seams, bell sleeves, shawl collars and A-line cuts are some of the finishing touches in the six-piece collection. Fabric combinations include silk jacquard and cashmere, and velvet and mohair.

This marks Normandy & Monroe’s debut into the women’s business — something the company has planned since its inception, said Padgett Mangan, who co-founded the company with Jamie Davidson in 2001.

The duo met at an Arkansas Razorbacks football game, struck up a friendship and eventually a business partnership, naming their company after the streets where they grew up. Their men’s collection has built a following that includes fellow Arkansas native former President Bill Clinton, as well as Robert DeNiro, Ashton Kutcher and Harrison Ford.

The business partners didn’t have to look far for a women’s designer, recruiting Little Rock resident Betsy Parkinson, who had been a freelance designer for the men’s line for three years. First-year projected wholesale volume is $3 million with distribution expected to be in about 115 specialty stores, Mangan said. Coats wholesale from $700 to $4,500 for a silk brocade style.

For the new collection, Parkinson said she was inspired by the opulence and bygone days of dressing formally for dinner, as depicted in “The Reluctant Debutante,” a 1958 film starring Rex Harrison, Sandra Dee and Kay Kendall. The easy elegance of Grace Kelly, Babe Paley, Diana Vreeland and C.Z. Guest also appealed to her.

“Fashion wasn’t so much something they put on every morning,” she said. “It was a way of life.”

Parkinson also drew design inspiration from such socialites as Cristina Greeven Cuomo, Francesca Visconti and Wiggie Bitter, who is married to the grandson of Scalamandré’s founder.

Parkinson said as a child she “played in her grandmother’s Scalamandré drapes constantly.” That wasn’t the only fashion influence that carried over into adulthood. Her grandmother, a former Bergdorf Goodman buyer, taught her to shop the rack at Neiman Marcus at the age of 13, and they continued to do so. “It’s a rite of passage for a Southern girl,” Parkinson said.

A believer “in buying two good pieces each season that will stand the test of time and trends,” Parkinson said she is also focused on fit. “I’m a fit monger,” she added. “If something doesn’t fit right, I become unglued.”