Born: Donna Faske in Forest Hills, New York, 2 October 1948. Education: Studied at Parsons School of Design, New York. Family: Married Mark Karan, 1973 (divorced); married Stephan Weiss, 1977 (died 2001); children: Gabrielle, Lisa, Cory. Career: Assistant designer, Anne Klein & Co., and Addenda Company, New York, 1967-68; designer, Anne Klein, 1968-71; designer and director of design in association with Louis Dell'Olio, Anne Klein & Co., 1974-84; launched Anne Klein II diffusion line, 1982; designer, Donna Karan New York (DKNY), from 1985; added swimwear line, 1986; introduced hosiery collection, 1987; established DKNY bridge line, 1988; introduced DKNY menswear collection, 1991; founded Donna Karan Beauty Company, fragrance and cosmetic division, New York, 1992; introduced lingerie and children's line, DKNY Kids, from 1992; took company public, 1996; introduced new fragrance, Chaos, 1996; opened stores in Berlin, 1997; licensed DKNY Kids to Esprit, 1998; licensed timepieces collection and debuted fragrances DKNY Men, DKNY Women , 1999; introduced DKNY swimwear and Donna Karan Home, 2000; opened 10,000-square-foot DKNY store on Madison Avenue, 2001. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1985; Fashion Footwear Association of New York award, 1988; Council of Fashion Designers of America award, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1996; Honorary Degree, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Parsons School of Design, 1987; named to Fashion Designer Walk of Fame, I. Magnin, 1991; Woolmark award, 1992. Address: 550 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10018, U.S.A.
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Donna Karan can be considered the designer who has made it fashionable to be voluptuous. She has based her corporate philosophy on clothes designed to hug a woman but also hide bodily imperfections. "You've gotta accent your positive, delete your negative," she declared in a press release, emphasizing the fact that if you're pulled together underneath, you can build on top of that. Karan firmly relates designing to herself and her role as a woman. She sees design as a personal expression of the many roles she has had to balance, being a wife, mother, friend, and businessperson. She believes her sex has given her greater insight into solving problems women have with fashion, fulfilling their needs, simplifying dress to make life easier and to add comfort, luxury, and durability.
Originating as a womenswear label, the Karan company also produces menswear, childrenswear, accessories, beauty products, and a fragrance that perpetrate the lifestyle and philosophy instigated by the womenswear line. Donna Karan stresses that she has not drawn the line there. "There's so much to be done. DKNY underwear,
Karan was born and raised on Long Island, New York. Both her mother and father were involved in fashion careers, so it seemed inevitable she should follow in their footsteps. After two years studying fashion at Parsons School of Design in New York, she was hired by Anne Klein for a summer job. She later became an associate designer until Klein died in 1974. Her next lucky break was to shape the rest of her career. She was named successor to Anne Klein and together with Louis Dell'Olio, who joined the company a year later, designed the Klein collection.
Shortly after the launch of the diffusion line, Anne Klein II, in 1982, Karan felt ready to go it alone. Together with her husband, Stephen Weiss, she launched the first Donna Karan collection in 1985 and since then the company has grown at a dizzying pace. Karan is inspired by New York; she believes its energy, pace, and vibrance attracts the most sophisticated and artistic people in the world, the type of people and lifestyle for whom she has always designed. Her principle is that clothes should be interchangeable and flexible enough to go from day to evening, summer to winter. Fashion should be a multicultural language, easy, sensuous, and functional, a modern security blanket. Perhaps this explains why her fundamental trademark items, the bodysuits, unitards, black cashmere and stretch fabrics and sensuous bodywrap styles owe great allegiance to the innate style and taste of the artist.
There is a great sense of urgency about Donna Karan; to say there are not enough hours in a day would be an understatement. Her interviews are always frenetic, emotionally charged yet human and blatantly honest. When asked by journalist Sally Brampton to describe her life, she replied, "It's chaos, C.H.A.O.S." Karan's magic touch is a combination of creative flair and marketing know-how. She designs for human needs, people who live, work, and play. She conceptualizes a customer and wardrobe and can then merchandise a line, applying her designer's eye for color, proportion, and fit. In many ways she is like a contemporary American Chanel in that she analyses women's needs with a question to herself: "What do I need? How can I make life easier? How can dressing be simplified so I can get on with my own life?"
In 2000 and 2001 the life of Donna Karan, as a designer and as a woman, changed dramatically. Negotiations with LVMH to acquire a controlling share of DKI (the conglomerate that includes DKNY, Donna Karan, and her widely popular brand of sportswear and jeans) brought immense scrutiny from the entire fashion universe. At the same time, Stephan Weiss—the sculptor, mentor, husband, and friend with whom Karan launched her own design company in 1985—was dying of lung cancer. His death in June 2001 seemed to have galvanized Karan into her finest and most spectacular display of creativity. A new space on Madison Avenue, which had been under construction for three years, was opened to extended accolades from architectural critics as well as the fashion press.
The new store, a three-story brownstone built in 1852, provides over 10,000-square-feet of retail space for Karan designs, which has come to include home accessories. Karan never hesitates to acknowledge her debt to and her admiration for other designers. The first floor of her new Madison Avenue shop is a domestic paradise where DK designs for the home are discreetly arranged among shawls and scented candles and dozens of one-of-a-kind items she has discovered and offers to her customers. She explains that "the first thing I hope people see when they walk in is objects of passion, objects of desire."
Karan has moved from designing the feminine, comfortable clothes that have defined and improved the life of her clients to designs for these customers' homes, and finally to suggesting possessions that appeal to their souls. All the Karan lines, whether for the woman or for the home, respect the busy and chaotic nature of contemporary life. She has never been interested in quantity but now even more emphasizes the choice to live with and dress only in those things of the highest quality that make one utterly happy. Karan's clothing designs (supplemented by accessories, fragrance, and makeup collections) reflect the image of a New York woman; her home furnishings provide a glimpse into a New York lifestyle.
updated by Kathleen Bonann Marshall