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As DKNY Jeans’ latest celebrity design collaborator, Hilary Duff is determined to prove her days starring as Lizzie Maguire are long gone.

This story first appeared in the February 5, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The 21-year-old actress-singer-designer showed up early for her 11 a.m. meeting at the DKNY Jeans showroom at 240 West 40th St. to discuss her new brand, which she’s calling Femme for DKNY Jeans. She’d just flown in from Los Angeles, and there were no publicists, managers or entourage in tow. She was staying at her friend’s Manhattan apartment, wheeling two suitcases behind her.

“One of the hardest things is to come up with a name,” said Duff of her new line, which she was wearing: a gray fringe T-shirt, leggings and a vest. “But I think Femme works really well and explains the line perfectly as feminine but tough all at the same time. It’s aggressive, but in a good way.”

This isn’t the first time Duff had to come up with a name for her own fashion collection. Five years ago, as a teenager, she launched Stuff by Hilary Duff, which used to produce everything from T-shirts to bedsheets. That line is now being phased out and, with the exception of eyewear, there is no longer product on the market.

“I’ve lost interest in it, and I’m ready to move on and do other things,” she explained of the line, which sold at retailers such as Target, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s. “I feel like the brand was for younger girls, and I want to do things for girls my own age now.”

The partnership with the Liz Claiborne Inc.-owned DKNY Jeans is a big move for Duff — one she plans to be involved in every step of the way. And while she isn’t the first celebrity to partner with the company — Fall Out Boy Pete Wentz was first and actress Rachel Bilson was second — she’s nonetheless dedicated to it.

“I’ve been learning so much about how the process happens from how much certain things cost to shipping schedules — it has been an amazing learning experience,” she said.

The Femme for DKNY Jeans line will launch in stores this fall. And while Wentz’s and Bilson’s collections only sold at retail for one season, the company has signed Duff for two — fall and holiday — with the option to extend the agreement depending on performance.

“From the feedback we’ve gathered from our customers, they wished these collaborations were available to them for a longer period of time,” said Kevin Monogue, president of DKNY Jeans. “They wanted to see more, which is what led us to working with Hilary and making her partnership last longer.”

The collection, which will be sold within the existing DKNY Jeans line, is aimed at the current list of retailers already selling the brand, including Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom. However, Monogue said that since the line is priced slightly higher than the regular collection — wholesaling between $19.50 for a T-shirt and $64 for outerwear — he can see it gaining some interest from other higher-end specialty stores. He declined to give volume projections.

The line, which consists of about 10 to 12 pieces for each delivery, is prepared to ship monthly beginning in August and includes an array of sportswear pieces Duff came up with in order to solve her personal fashion dilemmas. There’s a pair of denim jeans with two different-size belt loops — one for a small belt and one for a large, so the wearer can switch up her belt options each time she wears them. There’s also a sweater that comes with a removable cowl-neck, a T-shirt with a removable chain necklace, a butterfly-printed knit wrap sweater made extra long in the front to be easily wrapped as a scarf and a layering camisole with crystal details on the straps, which are meant to be seen when layered correctly.


“Given the current economic environment, this line speaks volumes to our customers,” Monogue said. “She still needs to be wowed at retail and needs that emotional connection. This line will certainly give her that.”

Duff agrees.

“I love the idea that the collection reaches a lot of people and provides them with so many different options,” she said. “There is truly something in this line for every girl whose styles change every day, like mine does,” continued Duff. “Sometimes I want to wear tight leather leggings with a big plaid shirt, or other days I want to wear a floral-print dress but make it look edgy. Some days I like to be a bit more punk rock, but in a girly way. I love wearing layers and scarves, and I love that this line can be mixed and matched just the way you want it to. I think it’s the perfect line for young girls who can’t afford to buy a lot of clothes these days.”

Wentz has taken his Clandestine Industries line out into the market on his own, while Bilson’s spokesman said the partnership “was a great learning experience into the world of design for Rachel, and they are currently reviewing options for Edie Rose [the line’s name].” Duff said she would hope to continue with the Femme brand even after the partnership with DKNY Jeans ends.

“We have such a good team right now, and I would love to do it forever with them,” she said. “But if I had to take it on my own, I would want to do that.”

Besides being a designer, Duff does have a few other jobs to do. She is taping a guest spot for an upcoming episode of CBS’ “Ghost Whisperer,” and is shooting her own TV series, where she appears as a student who aces the bar exam and becomes California’s youngest attorney. It has been reported the show will be called “Barely Legal.” Duff said that while that is one of the contenders, the title of the show has yet to be picked.

In addition, Duff is set to star in a film called “Safety Glass” with Molly Shannon, “Food Fight” with Charlie Sheen and “Greta,” where she plays a waitress who falls for the chef at a restaurant where she works. And she’s also signed on to play Bonnie Parker in a remake of the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde.” But, Duff said, while she has a lot going on in the movies, she has had to work a little harder at proving herself.

“It’s been a little bit of a fight to prove to people that I can do different things,” said the star of such popular tween films as “Cheaper By the Dozen” and “A Cinderella Story.” “I’ve been pigeonholed into certain kinds of roles. I don’t think it will be hard to get out of it as long as I’m willing to do some independent films where I don’t make any money, but I’m willing to do that to prove that I’m diverse.”

When it comes to her music career, it seems Duff wants to give that a little bit of a rest for now. Her last record, “Dignity,” was released in 2007 and went certified gold.

“I toured for four-and-a-half years of my life,” she said. “I’m sort of ready to have a more normal schedule where I can be home more and near my family and friends. I’ve reached a period where I want more consistency.”