What Donna Karan Has Done in 30 Years
by elizabeth thorp
Donna Karan celebrates 30 years at the top of the fashion industry with a fall collection that references her debut designs and an ever expanding portfolio of philanthropic causes.
Donna Karan wearing designs from her Fall 2014 30th-anniversary collection.
“It seems like yesterday [that it all began]. I’m writing my autobiography right now and reflecting back on the whole thing,” says Donna Karan of her eponymous label’s 30th anniversary. Ocean Drive joined Karan in her NYC studio, The Stephan Weiss Studio, named for her late husband, artist-entrepreneur Stephan Weiss, to discuss the milestone year, her new collection, and philanthropic passions. Her Urban Zen Center, headquartered at the studio, raises consciousness and inspires meaningful change in the areas of well-being, cultural preservation, and children’s empowerment—all part of a continuing legacy she focuses on for the future.
The finale walk of the Fall 2014 collection. left: A sketch showing Karan’s skilled hand in fluidity.
Karan started her design house in 1984. The initial goals were modest—to create a little company that filled some fashion needs—“trying to make a pair of jeans that actually fit,” for example, and stylish clothes for real women entering the workforce in record numbers. Her tightly edited core collection, “Seven Easy Pieces” (a bodysuit served as the fundamental element), that could take women from day to night, revolutionized the way urban women dressed. “It’s the only place I guarantee you will never show a wrinkle, never show anything,” she says of her timeless Cold Shoulder dress, which bared the naked shoulder. “From the shoulder down, it’s another discussion. But your shoulder is always your best asset. Everything else you can cover up.” Her spot-on insights into the needs of working women as they climbed the ranks helped fuel her success, propelling the company into the forefront of American fashion design.
Those early design principles impact her collections today. For Fall 2014, she says the scarf dresses are among her favorites. “It’s all about the scarf and the body, and harkens back to the first original collection with the bodysuit,” says Karan. “You can cover up what you want to cover up and show what you want to show. You can go from day to night easily with the tailoring and the chiffon. Miami is definitely an evening market. Miami has much more of an evening appeal. But it’s nighttime casual. I think it’s sexy, I think probably my skinny pants and my jersey top say ‘Miami,’ totally.”
Models backstage in the designer’s easy yet body-conscious creations.
Early in her career, Karan says she realized that while she could dress people, she wasn’t addressing their inner or personal needs. She was constantly asking herself, “How do you bring consciousness to the consumers, to the retailers, and to the world at large?” Losing her assistant, Clarissa Block, to ovarian cancer recently prompted her to become an activist for finding a cure for the disease, one of many causes she has supported over the years.
Today Karan says she remains as committed to her philanthropy as she is to her company. When asked if she has any specific goals for the next three decades, the designer responds, “It’ll take more than 30 years to accomplish all I want to do—my Urban Zen Foundation is just taking off; I have endless design ideas, wellness centers I’d love to create, so many new places to travel. Like I always say, it’s what I haven’t done that excites me. To be continued...” Saks Fifth Avenue, Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave., 305-865-1100
photography by randall Slavin; jamie beck (backstage); Makeup by bertal CaMal; hair by JoyCe Cohen
Go behind the scenes with Elle Macpherson during her Ocean Drive photo shoot.