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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Donna Degnan, American Fashion Designer and Creative Director and Owner of The Donna Degnan Collection Made in New York Our Coverage Sponsored by Hallak Cleaners the Couture Cleaner

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Known for her classic silhouettes with a modern and contemporary edge, Donna Degnan is an American designer that creates superlative modern classic styles that many women across the country covet as each new collection makes its debut. Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Donna’s creativity was inspired by her parents, Rose and John Degnan, and their highly successful interior design business: they believed in making their clients happy and did their utmost best to satisfy and exceed their needs and desires. Her parents were proud of their work and always stood behind it. Their work and their philosophies created the essential early influence that has been the bedrock of the success of the Donna Degnan brand today, which has flourished over the past two decades.

Both of her parents were interior design professionals, working full-time. At her mom’s store, Donna spent hours going through her mom’s fabric books and photos of decorative treatments for houses. This experience accounted for Donna’s great passion for fabrics to this day. Fabrics themselves have inspired the designs for Donna throughout her career and her mom’s business acumen has been a guiding force in her own business dealings: Donna’s mother was honest and fair, but also was strong, demonstrating to Donna at an early age to pursue professional opportunities and to ignore glass ceilings. Donna continues to embody these maxims in her work today. Her parents had a great business relationship and shared a passion for what they did that never dwindled. Today, Donna feels to some extent she has emulated their example in her own partnership with her business partner since 1996, Gene Fogarty. The Donna Degnan brand is philosophically a family business and much of their staff have been with them since the beginning two decades ago.

From a very early age, Donna translated this love of interior style to fashion: she loved to dress and be an individual in style. Donna always marched to her own beat, a trait that would later be essential as a creative director in a leading American specialty brand. In her early years, Donna was inspired by pictures in magazines and then chose the right fabric for the design shown, and her mother with her amazing sewing skills would create Donna’s desire without even a pattern. Donna’s attention to detail was also recognized early, as when patch work jeans were popular, Donna would design the placement of each patch and the colors and have them sewn in that exact method. When long scarves were in, Donna convinced a knitter to make her one much longer so Donna’s would be unique: she had a good laugh when she saw this tiny girl in this super long scarf! Clearly, Donna Degnan possessed an acute vision and a great eye for success in style, thus, it was Donna Degnan’s destiny to attend F.I.T: this brought all her imaginings and inspirations to literal fruition that you can wear today. 

Donna was taught the nuts and bolts of the fashion trade in the fashion capital of the world at the Fashion Institute of Technology in pursuing an intense two-year program steeped in all facets of trade. With alumni like Calvin Klein, FIT is a driving force in the industry of fashion internationally. Mover and Shaker Bil Donovan and Kenny Bonavitacola, a wonderful couture evening designer who had over 8 covers of WWD are among her friends and classmates from FIT. Donna has always gravitated to designers who had simple lines in extraordinary fabrics. Early influences on Donna’s career include designers from early 60's like Andre Courreges, famous for his streamlined, mod (modern) designs of the era. This has been a running theme in her collections over the years. Donna’s muse has always been Audrey Hepburn. When Donna graduated from F.I.T, the industry celebrated the bold and imaginative in a vibrant time. Diversity in looks was admired in the exciting and inspiring time when customers loved fashion and wanted to shop! 

After graduating Fashion Institute of Technology, Donna designed collections for a few major retailers where her tenacious work ethic and talent were noticed. Over the years, she worked for various companies in many capacities that included several years of traveling overseas for imports. As her career developed, she uncovered where and what she really wanted to do. In 1995, Donna was working for her now partner, Gene Fogarty when he and Donna decided to partner up and start their own company as his previous business objectives refocused. Donna was then able to create her own vision. This new freedom enabled Donna to focus on two main objectives: she wanted to be completely made in America and she wanted to design for women like her who were experiencing a dearth in the market at time of wearable clothes for the modern woman, who had choices in the mid-1990’s of the too-young or the too-old. Donna wanted beautiful fitting, classic designs with modern inspiration geared towards that woman coveting stunning American style. 

Donna’s career in fashion has adapted to many changes and has been flexible in its approach to succeed in a competitive market while staying true and committed to her original classic unafraid, unwavering American vision. 

Although the methods of doing business are very different today, Donna’s intelligent evolution has enabled her to stay current. Donna is always informed and always knows what is happening, and she has always both designed and manufactured in Manhattan. 

Donna has a very loyal audience of celebrities in television, politics, stage and film. Inside Edition’s Deborah Norville, former Governor Christine Whitman, E News reporter Alicia Quarles and Broadway actress Donna Murphy are just a few spotted in Donna Degnan designs. Donna’s designs have been seen in numerous magazines and websites and recently she was a featured designer for Cotton Incorporated’s major Miami 24 hour Fashion Show 2013. 

The Donna Degnan label can be found in over 500 better specialty stores concentrating on the American market including Tootsies in Houston and Dallas TX, Mitchell’s in Westport, CT, Richard’s in Greenwich, CT, Marsh’s in Huntington, NY, Balliet’s in Oklahoma City, OK and Joan Shepp in Philadelphia, PA to name a few. She also has sold to Canada and Mexico.

Donna Degnan’s design studio is located in New York City and she is very proud to manufacture her collections in New York City’s Garment Center. Lulu, Donna’s adorable and feisty “Morkie” dog comes to work with Donna every day and is never too far from her favorite designer.  We are absolutely thrilled to present Donna Degnan as our latest Mover and Shaker.  Peachy Deegan interviewed Donna for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What does fashion mean to you?
Donna Degnan: Fashion is a statement to the world of who you are; your fashion is your signature.

What defines American fashion?
Wearable lifestyle clothes; we invented casual.

Why do you manufacture in Manhattan?
We wanted to support our local manufacturers and have a hands-on approach to business; I have more control of my product.

What should the world know about the evolution of the Donna Degnan brand?
That it is ever-changing with the needs of our modern woman.

How has fashion in Manhattan changed since you started working in it professionally?
It was much more structured and suit-driven when I started, and became more and more easy and casual. Women today want comfort above all. 

What advice would you give to young designers around the world today?
Stay true to your vision!

Would you do anything in your career differently if you could go back and change anything and what advice would you give to yourself if you could go back and say something to Donna Degnan the day she graduated from FIT?
I have no regrets and feel like my choices in my career came at the right moment and were organic.  It was good to take the risks I did. 

What pieces that you have designed are you the most proud of?
When I did 50’s and 60’s type styles but really turned them into a modern version! 

How does one go about designing a collection-where do you start-do you just get up one day and decide that day you will design or do you need to be hit by inspiration?
You can't command creativity to just come; some days you just don’t feel inspired and then all of a sudden you feel inspired and do it! But I always start with fabric. 

Whom would you like to dress that you are not dressing now?
Robin Wright: she is the epitome of the modern but sleek woman.

What should Melania Trump wear during the day at the Inauguration and what should she wear to the Inaugural Balls at night?
 A feminine but structured dress during the day and a one shoulder flowy gown in evening.

We think she should be wearing American designers that manufacture in America!

Where would you like to be sold where you are not sold today?
Like every designer- Bergdorf's. 

If you had dinner with Andre Courreges today, what would you like to talk about, what would you ask and how do you think you would be answered?
What inspired him to do such futuristic shapes and to work in such new fabrics, and his answer would be where he looked for that inspiration or how it came into his world.

What is the secret to longevity in the business of fashion?
The ability to change and adjust as the industry does.  You must keep reinventing yourself and how you do business.

What would surprise people the most about the business of fashion?
People think that it is such a glamorous world when it is hard-working and a tough industry.  You need to be very committed and willing to work long hours and weeks. 

What does your father’s Irish heritage mean to you?
It means so much to me; it has helped me understand my soul!

Please tell us about your travels in Ireland and the highlights of them.
I have traveled all through Ireland, stayed in Bed and Breakfasts and Castles.  I drove for hours in those adorable little cars.  I was awed by the many shades of green in countryside. I loved the hospitality of the people and the best was the fact that I did it with my sister!

Are you still interested in home fashion and do you think you might develop a home lifestyle brand also sometime?

How do you discover new fabrics today?
I always keep my eyes open while shopping for inspiration and I am constantly looking at new fabric mills plus the many I see each season. 

If you were stranded on a desert island with only ten types of fabric with which to design a new collection, any season, what would they be and why?
Ponte knits: they don’t wrinkle.

What are the biggest mistakes women make in fashion?
Following a trend just because it’s a trend even if it doesn’t suit them. 

What are the biggest mistakes men make in fashion?
I don't know.  I don’t really pay attention to men’s. 

Would you ever design for men?

What other designers (of anything) do you admire today and why?
Ralph Lauren: he has stayed so true to his brand and made it a lifestyle. Michael Kors: great fabrics and simple lines. 

What should the world know about Lulu that they might not know yet?
She can be a terror when she wants to !

Does Lulu have favorite dog fashion designers, and if so what are they and what does she like to wear?
Well we kind of have matching parkers!!!

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My mother and father.

What are you proudest of and why?
Being a woman and an owner! No glass ceilings for me.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Non-profit work to help others.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
None so far. 

What one word best describes you and why?
Perfectionist: I am a true virgo.

What do you take your sense of identity from?
By my upbringing and the cultures I have been steeped in.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
Central Park 
 And in Ireland?
Any countryside 

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 

What is your favorite drink?

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
Having a whole conversation with someone thinking they were someone else and the funniest part they knew who I thought I was talking to!!!

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature?
Pete Hamil’s – Forever 
 And in Ireland?
DH Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s lover 

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
A dancer, always something I would have loved to be.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
Ice skating 

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Go someplace that’s always open! The city never sleeps.
   And in Ireland?
Kiss the Blarney stone 

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Jackie O – what a life

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
So many, there are endless great experiences.
  And in Ireland?
Irish old songs and dance 

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
I never feel I have done enough and plan to do more. But I have done mentoring of teenagers from projects, volunteered at foundling Hospital with sick children, and delivered food to the homebound from my church food kitchen.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite WhomYouKnow​.com​ column and what do you like about it?
I like Peachy's Picks and Terrific Takeout and what you do with restaurants; in particular I loved the article on Neary’s – I love that they are a family business and the pictures you took are so sweet and food looked good.  It just gave me a good feeling!! And I am biased because its an Irish restaurant.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I think you know a lot already 

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

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