The Story Of Donna Karan

The story of Donna Karan

“For me, designing is an expression of who I am as a woman, with all the complications, feelings and emotions.” Donna Karan

Donna Karan is a fashion designer and the creator of the DKNY (Donna Karan New York) clothing label. Sometimes called the queen of American fashion, Donna Karan has earned a reputation as a world-class designer as well as a strong business-woman in charge of a large retail corporation.

Karan was born in 1948 in New York and raised on Long Island. Her mother was a model and her father a haberdasher. Karan was fashion-obsessed from an early age. By y the age of 14 she had dropped out of school and begun selling clothing at a local boutique. In 1968 Karan was accepted into the highly respected Parsons School of Design in New York City. While in school, Karan worked as an assistant for Anne Klein. Her work there proved so impressive that within two years she was named associate designer. Already by the age of 26, Karan was named head designer. In 1974 Karan and Louis Dell’Olio became co-designers of Anne Klein after the designer’s death. Under Karan’s direction, and with the help of fellow designer and Parson’s friend Louis Dell’Olio, the Ann Klein brand blossomed and received many awards for their sporty, sophisticated womenswear.

Since 1984 she started the Donna Karan New York company with her husband, Stephan Weiss, and business partner Takiyho Inc. Donna Karan built her enormous fashion empire in less than a decade on one extraordinarily simple idea: If she needs a particular item of clothing—a bodysuit, a wrap skirt, a chiffon blouse, a longer jacket— then every other woman needs it too.

Already in 1985 she debuts her first women collection “Seven Easy Pieces”. From the start Karan made it her mission to “design modern clothes for modern people.” She combined elements of tailoring with sportswear to ensure clothes were “user-friendly and luxurious”, as well as deeply flattering. Her clothes are rarely headline-grabbing, but always easy-to-wear in a luxurious blend of cashmeres and lycras and a sophisticated palette dominated by blues and blacks. In 1987 she became one of the first designers to use stretch fabrics. In 1988, Karan, recognizing the need for a more affordable fashion line, launched Donna Karan New York (DKNY), a women’s line that was influenced by her original Signature collection, “I’m bored with the concept of dressing ‘the executive woman.’ We’re all working today. These are clothes to have fun in.” In 1990 she developed DKNY Jeans and then, two years later, debuted DKNY for men: “The 70’s were all about putting women in men’s clothes,” Ms. Karan says. “Now I want men to feel absolutely luxurious and comfortable the way women do.”  Since then a whole host of ancillary products have been created under the DKNY name, from children’s clothes to furniture.  In 1999 the first DKNY flagship store was opened in New York.

Her husband Weiss, who passed away from lung cancer in 2001, was said to be the influence for many of her men’s wear collections. In 1992 Karan came up with  the idea: a basic line called Essentials—a capsule collection of blazers, pants, wrap skirts, and bodysuits that sold $15 million the first year, prompting her to add a line of Essentials for Men. The same year Karan launched her first perfume. She directed its creators to come up with something that smelled “like Casablanca lilies, red suede and the back of Stephan’s neck”. In 1993 Donna Karan became the first American designer to open a fashion store in China.

Her connections to Hollywood and Washington, D.C., also helped to boost the designer’s reputation. Singer/ actress/director Barbra Streisand wore Karan constantly, as did television’s Murphy Brown character actress Candace Bergen. Donning her menswear were singer Michael Bolton and actors Larry Hagman, Richard Gere, and Warren Beatty. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton slipped into her suits and dresses, and President Bill Clinton campaigned in her stylish navy wool crepe suits.

Her reputation and identity as a world-class designer was established, Karan expanded her vision into home furnishings and a women’s body care line (moisturizers, bath soap, and shower gels). By the late 1990s, Karan had amassed a global business empire that included childrenswear, fragrances, skin-care products, hosiery, and eye wear, as well. The company had almost 300 foreign accounts, including 27 free-standing Donna Karan stores, with strong followings in Europe, the Far East, and Japan.

In 1996 Donna Karan International Inc. became a publicly traded company. In 1998 she established “Super Saturday” with Liz Tilberis, then editor in chief at Harper’s Bazaar, to benefit the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. In 2001, Karan sold her publicly traded company to LVMH, Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, (a French luxury conglomerate). Reports of the sale were said to be nearly $650 million. As part of the sale, Karan agreed to stay on as the designer of the brand. In 2004 Donna Karan published her autobiography The Journey of a Woman. In 2007 she created the Urban Zen Initiative to raise awareness about health care after her husband, Mr. Weiss, dies of lung cancer in 2001. In 2010 the designer presents an Urban Zen collection affiliated with the foundation. “If I can’t live, work, travel, sleep — or, yes, meditate in it — it’s not in the line.” In 2014 Karan celebrated her 30th anniversary with a collection dedicated to New York. “Thirty years later, I see style as an evolution, a unique reflection of who you are, where you’ve been and where you are going,” Ms. Karan says. In 2015 Karan stepped down from her role as chief designer at Donna Karan International after 31 years.
Over the years Karan has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. In 2003 she became the first American to ever receive Fashion Group International’s “Superstar Award.” The following year, she received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

By 2007 Donna Karan had seven grandchildren and over 20 years of experience in the business. Donna Karan is a one-woman powerhouse who has made New York uptown dressing her signature. Her aim when she started out in 1985 was to dress women in comfort, to liberate them from the confines of Eighties power suits – plus she created DKNY for a younger customer with her daughter Gaby in mind. Today, Karan’s company is a lifestyle brand producing menswear, jeans, accessories, hosiery, fragrance and cosmetics.