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Donna Karan's Challenge

It is a term that is used all too loosely these days, but Donna Karan is a genuine fashion icon. The Long Island-born designer has come to embody the modern American woman who does it all and enjoys a successful career, rich family life and wide range of interests. Perhaps more than any other designer, Karan is her customer. It is this deep understanding of the women who wear her collections that drives her business philosophy and makes her so successful.

“Everything I do is a matter of heart, body and soul,” says Karan, chief designer of her eponymous company.

In 1984, when Karan left Anne Klein (the label she co-designed for with Louis Dell’Olio), she used her unfailing feminine instincts to start a company with her late husband, sculptor Stephan Weis. It created a system of dressing for women who had come into their own professionally and knew they didn’t have to dress like a man to look powerful and feel good about themselves.

Fast forward to fall 2009. While other designers went either too safe or too theatrical during the worst recession in decades, Karan presented a collection that harked back to her first successful solo collection.

Today, Donna Karan International has more than 100 company-owned and licensed freestanding stores for Donna Karan collection, DKNY and DKNY Jeans worldwide. Shop for Donna Karan at Marissa Collections in Naples and at Saks Fifth Avenue in Naples and Fort Myers.

Widely known as one of the industry’s most philanthropic figures, Karan has co-chaired the annual New York “Kids for Kids” events for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation since its inception in 1993. She also underwrites Super Saturday, an annual designer flea market founded with the late Liz Tilberis in 1998 to benefit the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. As an umbrella for her many philanthropic projects, Karan and Weiss established the Karan Weiss Foundation in 1999. Two years ago, she unveiled her Urban Zen Initiative, whose mission she describes as “advancing wellness, preserving culture and empowering children—all causes “that mean the world to me.”

Armed with our Style Council’s questions, I caught up with the designer to talk about her newest collection, why she loves to dress celebrities and more.

You have always designed for the woman juggling career, family, her own social life. How does that translate into your spring 2010 collection?

We called spring “What’s in the Air” because it was really about a feeling—that freedom and emotion of being in nature. There’s a system that goes day into night and mix and matches into an entire wardrobe to address whatever this modern woman is up to. My collections are based around three things—flexibility, function and fantasy—because in today’s world, you really need all of them.

What was your inspiration for this collection?
What are the key pieces a woman needs in her wardrobe this spring?

The silhouette is organic—very airy and all about motion. It starts with a two-piece foundation—any one of the crushed textured tops paired with one of the double-layered skirts or slim pants. Then you add one of the belted jackets. I also feel strongly about the simplicity of a dress, whether it’s body-conscious or a simple wrap with full skirt. All of it can be topped with the lighter-than-air effortlessness of a paper trench or glass shell.

How important is “luxury” to your customers in  today’s retail climate?

I think luxury is more important than ever in today’s retail climate. You have to give a woman a reason to shop. She has to feel that she’s getting something special, something very well made, something she doesn’t own, won’t see coming and going, and something that will refresh her wardrobe and style.

What is it about southern Florida that appeals to you? How would you characterize the style of your clients that live here?

I think everyone loves southern Florida for its weather. It’s like being on vacation year-round without leaving the country. That said, my client is the same wherever she lives. She’s modern, sophisticated, stylish and creative. This is a woman who has her own sense of power.

What do you enjoy most about DRESSING actresses FOR THE RED CARPET? How has it affected your brand?

I love the showcase of dressing someone for the red carpet—what better way to have your evening clothes out there? What I’ve come to appreciate most about working with celebrities is that they are real women with the same vulnerabilities and body concerns the rest of us have.

You’ve extended your company into so many different areas. What’s next for you?

I have one standard answer for that because it’s the truth—it’s what I haven’t done that excites me. I’m happy to say I have no idea what the future holds for me or my company, but it will be great because I will be very inspired by the newness of it all.

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