NEW YORK — With the closing of the sale of Donna Karan International to G-III Apparel Group Ltd., Caroline Brown, chief executive officer of DKI, will be leaving the company. In addition, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, co-creative directors of DKNY, will exit and will focus on their Public School business.
Their departures were expected with the completion of G-III’s $650 million acquisition of DKI from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The trio will leave DKI at the end of the year.
“As Donna Karan International transitions to new ownership and therefore new directions, I have decided it is the right time to step down and explore new opportunities,” said Brown, who had served in the ceo role since January 2015. “This decision accompanies much appreciation and admiration for all of the talented teams here, our founder Donna Karan and our creative directors Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne. I know the company rests in good hands under the new leadership of G-III for the next stage of its development.”
In a joint statement, Chow and Osborne, said, “Given the company sale and subsequent change in strategies, we have decided to step down and focus on our own business Public School. It’s been an unbelievable experience to work side by side with the wonderful people at DKNY, especially our amazing design team and atelier. We wish the company success in the future.”
Neither Brown nor Chow or Osborne was available for further comment Thursday. But company founder Donna Karan said, “The people of Donna Karan have my heart. Together, as a family, we created and built two brands — Donna Karan and DKNY — that I will always be thankful and proud bear my name. I want to send everyone at the company my love and thanks for their enormous energy, passion, creativity and dedication, and good wishes as this new chapter begins.”
In a letter Brown sent a letter to DKI employees, she noted that plans will be communicated for the future leadership, structure and strategy of the company under the direction of Morris Goldfarb, chairman and ceo of G-III.
She told the employees that it’s been “a great journey” the past two years and they should be proud of what they achieved. “Together we strengthened our company with a truly global leadership team, introduced the first creative change for the brand, bolstered the DKNY brand through multiple consolidations, and streamlined a complex manufacturing chain to maximize quality and efficiency.”
In addition, Brown wrote of modernizing the company’s brand identity, raising its digital presence, launching new architectural concepts and elevating its global distribution. “Only with an exceptional team working on a shared vision could this have been possible,” she said.
The departure of the designers and Brown mark the latest in a string of changes at DKI over the last year. Under Brown’s tenure as ceo, Donna Karan, the brand’s founder, stepped down from the company to focus on her Urban Zen brand while remaining a consultant to the company. Brown also shuttered the company’s Collection business to focus on DKNY.
Since G-III first disclosed its intention to buy DKI in July, Karan has had several meetings with Goldfarb to talk about the brand’s history and legacy.
When asked whether Karan might return to her namesake brand, Goldfarb told WWD, “I’ve spoken to Donna several times. We don’t know what direction that will take.
“Clearly this is an important name to Donna as it is to us. She’s interested clearly on how we’ve positioned it, how we protect her name, her DNA. Donna is extremely talented and I respect everything she’s done,” Goldfarb said.
The G-III chairman said the company is sensitive to the positioning of the brand, noting that it made the acquisition not so much for how well the brand had been performing financially but more so because of “her accomplishment.” He added, “This is the most important asset that this company has. It is not a license, but a major acquisition for us.”
Toni Belloni, group managing director of LVMH, also wrote a letter to employees, thanking them for their contributions over the years. “We have spent very eventful years together. The markets have known profound transformation and difficult moments. We have always been proud of your work, now you evolved the brand to maintain its relevance and make it recognized across the world,” he wrote. He also thanked Brown, Osborne and Chow.
“Caroline’s leadership was instrumental in repositioning the brand for the future,” he wrote. “She streamlined the breadth of activities, refocusing the organization on quality and on the core values of the DKNY brand. Maxwell and Dao-Yi are deeply connected to new generations. They brought great creative skills to carve a new, fresh, relevant definition of the essence of the DKNY woman,” Belloni wrote.
Chow and Osborne were named in April 2015 to reinvigorate the DKNY brand as co-creative directors. The first DKNY women’s collection designed by Chow and Osborne was unveiled in September 2015 for spring 2016 selling.
At the time, Brown told WWD, “I can’t think of designers who represent authentic New York in a better way,” adding that, besides being New York-based designers, “they’re born and raised New Yorkers.”
For their first DKNY collection for spring 2016, WWD wrote, “What Chow and Maxwell did beautifully well was establish a template on which to build a baseline for quality — the clothes looked well-executed — and clarify a customer base.” The designers were said to be making progress with ensuing DKNY collections, but they weren’t given enough time to really make an impact.
Chow and Osborne founded Public School in 2008 with the goal of merging street sensibilities with high fashion. Among the numerous awards they have won are the CFDA Award for Menswear Design in 2014, as well as the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2013 . They also won the inaugural International Woolmark Prize for men’s wear in 2015.
Prior to joining DKI, Brown was president of Carolina Herrera for four-and-a-half years, and before that was ceo of Akris U.S. for three years.