Everything I do is a matter of heart, body and
soul," says Donna Karan, chief designer of the international company
that bears her name. "For me, designing is an expression of who I am as
a woman, with all the complications, feelings and emotions." In fact,
Karan credits her feminine instincts to the success of the company she
founded in 1984 with her late husband Stephan Weiss, which went on to
become a publicly-traded enterprise in 1996, and then five years later,
was acquired by its present owner, the French luxury conglomerate, LVMH,
Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Says Karan, "That I'm a woman makes me want
to nurture others, fulfill needs and solve problems. At the same time,
the artist within me strives for beauty, both sensually and visually. So
design is a constant challenge to balance comfort with luxury, the
practical with the desirable.
How Karan meets that challenge
can run from the simplicity of a bodysuit (where it all began) to the
artisan glamour of a limited edition hand-painted devore dress. Whatever
form the design takes, Karan will tell you it begins and ends with the
body - its sensual expression, sense of security, and freedom of
A modern system of dressing,
Karan's concept is based on seven easy pieces, where a handful of
interchangeable items work together to create an entire wardrobe that
goes from day to evening, weekday to weekend, season to season. "I'm
designing for an international man and woman. A creative person who
never knows where a day is going to take them," says Karan. "That's why
New York is on the label. It sets the pace, the attitude."
Speaking in a multi-cultural
language of fashion, Karan is inspired by life and the innate style of
the artist. Quintessential hallmarks include black cashmere, leather,
jersey stretch and molded fabrics, as well as silhouettes that wrap and
sculpt the body.
For Karan, it's never been just
about clothes. It's about a lifestyle. She sees the entire picture from
head-to-toe, from function to aesthetic. "How do I dress the leg?"
inspired Donna Karan Hosiery. "The right bra, T-shirts and sleepwear?"
Donna Karan Intimates. "The perfect glasses?" Donna Karan Eyewear. The
list goes on to include shoes, belts, accessories and, as Karan puts it,
"Everything you need to pull yourself together."
Karan's quest for the perfect
jeans, as well as her desire to dress her daughter Gabby, resulted in
the 1989 birth of DKNY. Fast fashion with an urban mind-set, DKNY is
what Karan calls "the pizza to Collection's caviar." DKNY grew so
popular and diverse that other brands and labels spun from it, including
DKNY Jeans, pure, DKNY Active, DKNY Underwear, DKNY Juniors, DKNY Kids,
and DKNY Baby (Not surprisingly, Karan's grandkids and friends' kids had
much to do with the latter brands). Like Collection, DKNY has myriad
accessory lines to underscore its New York City street-smart look.
Karan saw that the many men in
her life, starting with her husband, also needed a sophisticated system
of dressing. Considering Karan's father was a custom tailor, a menswear
collection was inevitable, and it was founded in 1992. Since men cannot
live by doubleface cashmere suits alone, DKNY Men emerged a year later
in answer to his casual, sport side. Both menswear lines beget other
collections, from tailored suits to dress furnishings and shoes.
Determined to seduce all the
senses, Karan took on the world of beauty in 1992 under the business and
creative leadership of her husband, who designed the bottles and jars
for the signature fragrances and their ancillary products. The beauty
division went on to introduce an award-winning skincare line and
best-selling fragrances that include Cashmere Mist and DKNY scents for
men and women. Completing the lifestyle approach to design, in 2001
Karan introduced a Donna Karan New York Home collection "all about touch
and feel," which includes everything from luxe bedding and candles to
cashmere throws, and DKNY Life, which accents the contemporary city home
with fashion-forward bedding and accessories.
Donna Karan International has
seventy company-owned and licensed freestanding Donna Karan collection
and DKNY stores worldwide. The first flagships opened in London, DKNY in
1997, and Collection a year later. 1999 marked the opening of the uptown
New York City DKNY flagship store, located at 60th Street and Madison
Avenue, and two years later, came the downtown DKNY flagship on West
Broadway in SoHo. Bringing it back to where it all began, in 2001 Karan
opened the Donna Karan New York flagship store, the premiere Collection
showcase, at 819 Madison Avenue. Designed as "a serene escape from the
city's chaos," a dramatic indoor/outdoor river rock garden runs through
the townhouse's ground floor.
For Karan, it literally and
creatively began in New York. She was born into fashion on Long Island.
Not only was her father Gabby Faske (who died when Karan was three) a
tailor, her mother Helen was a showroom model and fashion sales rep.
Even Karan's stepfather Harold Flaxman was in the fashion business. So
it was only natural that Karan, while still in high school, designed her
first collection and staged her first show.
Following her second year at
Parson's School of Design, Karan was hired by Anne Klein for a summer
job. It was an association that would shape the rest of Karan's life.
After three years as associate designer, Karan was named successor
following Klein's death in 1974. Louis Dell'Olio, a Parson's friend,
joined her a year later, together they designed the Anne Klein
Collection. In a foreshadow of DKNY, Karan created Anne Klein II in
1982, originating the concept of bridge and lifestyle dressing in
Ten years after Klein died,
Karan was ready to go out on her own with the support of Weiss and
partner Takiyho, Inc. the owner of Anne Klein & Co. Fall 1985 saw the
first Donna Karan New York Collection and the reaction from the press
and retailers proved once again that Karan made fashion history.
Throughout her long career,
Karan's peers have acknowledged her achievements with numerous
accolades. The Council of Fashion Designers of America has saluted her
an unprecedented six times. Because the industry has been so generous
and supportive, Karan feels it crucial to give back, which is why she
spends as much time as possible at her alma mater Parson's lecturing and
critiquing students' work.
Using her company's visibility
and resources for social causes is a heartfelt priority. A member of
CFDA's board of directors, Karan conceived as well as spearheaded its
Seventh on Sale benefits to raise funds for AIDS awareness and
education. Karan co-chairs the annual New York "Kids for Kids" events
for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, as she has since its
1993 inception, as well as the yearly "Super Saturday," a flea
market/barbecue founded with the late Liz Tilberis in 1998 to benefit
the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. She is an active supporter of New York
City's Dia Center for the Arts, one of the most prestigious contemporary
art institutes in the country and has chaired its last two Fall Galas.
To facilitate her many on-going philanthropic involvements, in 1999,
Karan and Weiss established the Karan Weiss Foundation to benefit
children's causes, medical research and the arts.
Maintaining an open dialogue
with her customer means everything to Karan. Through her company, Karan
regularly publishes style-related books, sponsors art exhibits, charity
events and book parties at the stores, and produces a bi-annual magazine
called Woman to Woman, where Karan speaks directly to her Collection