Donna Karan is the premier fashion designer and perhaps the most influential to appear in America in many years. Karan’s impact on the world of fashion is reflected in the fact that she sells more than $150 million per year.
Donna Faske was born in New York in 1948. In 1962 she dropped out of school, and started selling clothes at a neighbourhood boutique. After 4 years, in 1966 she enrolled in the prestigious Parsons School of Design. She married Mark Karan and had a daughter Gabrielle, nicknamed Gabby. She was divorced in 1983 and married her childhood sweetheart sculptor Stephan Weiss.
In 1968 Donna took up a summer job with the designer Anne Klein. A couple of months later, she was fired because she said “I was so good, that Anne Klein felt insecure and could not stand me in the design room.” Karan’s talent drew the attention of Patti Cappalli head of a label called “Addenda” and it was under her tutelage that Donna Karan developed as a designer. Karan worked with Cappalli for 18 months.
In 1970 Donna Karan returned to Anne Klein. In 1974 Anne Klein died of cancer, and Donna Karan completed her unfinished collection. Donna Karan and her Parsons classmate Dell ‘Olio made Anne Klein into one of the biggest and most profitable designer sportswear companies in the USA.
She collected 3 Coty Awards (The American Fashion Designer’s version of the Oscar) during the time she was with Anne Klein.
In 1985 Donna Karan went solo, and started her own label, the Donna Karan Collection. In 1988 she started a second line which she called DKNY (Donna Karan New York) Her collection was of co-ordinated working outfits, which could mix-and-match, along with a range of accessories to complement her designs. She combined comfort and simplicity with elegance to make sportswear, working wear and evening dresses. Her designs were considered classics.
Less than a year after starting her own company Donna Karan was awarded the Council of Fashion Designers of America Award, for outstanding creative contribution to American Fashion. This is called the “Gold Thimble” Award.
Donna Karan’s 1995/1996 collection was held in her slick Manhattan 4 storey store, as a charity fashion evening, in favour of the Chicken Shed Theatre Company which helps retarded children.
Donna Karan’s Style
Why are Donna Karan’s clothes so popular? She has the answer : “I design what I feel is missing from my closet”. Her needs coincide with millions of American working women. her clothes are not fantasies dreamed up in an ivory tower, they are casual chic with emphasis on the female body. The basis of her entire range is the figure suit, nicknamed by her as the “body”. Around this revolves her concept of the capsule wardrobe.
This is the most important fashion idea to emerge in the last few years. Her idea for classic outfits is a top, available in blouses, tank tops or T-shirts, accompanied by comfortable trousers or skirts. A jacket, elegantly but loosely tailored, is usually part of the outfit. If a woman cannot move freely in her clothes, her expression is choked. Donna Karan does not believe in too snug a fit.
Karan is still head of the design team for the Donna Karan Collection which she says is a very personal experience for her. With DKNY she oversees a team of young designers led by Jane Chung, who worked with her at Anne Klein. She says “these great young designers continually recharge and inspire me”.
Donna continues to make wrapped and draped garments in a sexy but controlled way that is attractive but not too alluring. She rarely uses much ornamentation on her clothes and jewellery or accessories are also used sparingly.
Over the years, Donna has won the Coty American Fashion Critics Award 4 times, in 1977, 1981, 1984 and 1985. She has also won the CFDA designer of the year award 4 times, in 1985, 1986, 1990 and 1992.
In the year 2001, the city of New York decided to honour American fashion designers by placing bronze plaques along 7th Avenue, the great street of fashion in New York. This has been called the “FASHION WALK OF FAME.” Donna Karan was one of those honoured, and here is a picture of her plaque.
In April 2001, LVMH the French giant concern headed by Bernard Arnault, bought out Donna Karan financially, although she continues as Chief Designer. It will have to be seen how this affects her operations.
Another event in 2001 occurred which will affect Donna tremendously. Her beloved husband Stephan Weiss died of cancer. He had been ill for some time. Donna had received his complete support and advice throughout her career and will sorely miss him.
- Donna presented her DKNY Spring/Summer 2003 collection at the New York Fashion Week in September 2002, which was greeted with aclaim.
Autumn/Winter 2003 Ready-to-Wear
New York – February 2003
- Donna aimed to reflect the sidewalk society of her beloved New York City. Her schoolgirl uniforms had skirts short enough to shock a nun. And her office girls would look wonderful in her black sweater with chain-mail sleeves. Skinny Glen-plaid pants, black tuxedo jackets, fuzzy mohair sweaters and silky little skirts were all part of the delight and easy, casual charm.
- Donna Karan’s DKNY collection for this season was shown during New York Fashion Week in September 2003.
- Donna is the Queen of casual chic. This show gave a feminine spin to sporty clothes, using bright colours like orange and pink. She paraded a multitude of safari-style outfits, comprising sexy dresses and tiny khaki shorts. She also featured some seriously sexy swimwear in mega-watt shades for poolside glamour.
- Both the Donna Karan and DKNY Fall collections were shown during New York Fashion Week in February 2004. Donna used a classic winter palette of greens, browns and plums, presenting tweed coats worn over the new narrow trouser shape cropped just above the ankle. Cozy bulky warm sweaters sat on the hipline and A-line skirts had a swinging flare. She also used soft wrinkly leathers again. But she didn’t forget the importance of the Little Black Dress, as shown here on the right from the DKNY show.
- During New York Fashion Week in September 2004, Donna Karan presented her DKNY Spring collection.
- It was a true New York character collection, created for those women who cultivate a style all their own. Box-pleated forties-style skirts, a mosaic camisole and pretty prints. Jane Chung is the company’s design overseer this season and has turned out a cheerful happy collection for summer.
- A few days later Donna presented her Donna Karan collection of rich confident suits, supple knits and great jerseys. She focused on tailored wool pieces inset with mesh panels and often laced at the back, corset-style. Her theme was “Constructing the Future”.
- She also included some beautifully cut summer dresses with draped and ruched skirts, like that shown on the left, yearning for a breeze to set them fluttering.