“Everything I do is a matter of heart, body and soul,” said Donna Karan, chief designer of the international company that bears her name. “For me, designing is an expression of who I am as a woman, with all the complications, feeling and emotions.”
Every season, it’s great to know what Karan’s thinking about. She has dressed modern women and men since her company was founded in 1984. “That I’m a woman makes me want to nurture others, fulfill needs and solve problems. At the same time, the artist within me strives for beauty, both sensually and visually. So design is a constant challenge to balance comfort with luxe, the practical with the desirable,” she added.
For Karan, it all begins with the simplicity of a bodysuit and runs to the artisan glamour of a limited edition hand-painted devore dress. Whatever form the design takes, Karan will tell you it begins and ends with the body—its sensual expression, sense of security and freedom of movement.
Her modern system of dressing starts with a basic concept based on seven easy pieces. Imagine what you can do with a handful of interchangeable items that work together to create a wardrobe that goes from day to evening, weekday to weekend, season to season. “I’m designing for an international man and woman, a creative person who never knows where a day is going to take them,” said Karan. “That’s why New York is on the label. It sets the pace, the attitude.”
Speaking in the multicultural language of fashion, Karan is inspired by the life and innate style of the artists. Quintessential Karan hallmarks include a black cashmere sweater, leather and stretch and molded fabrics. Her silhouettes that wrap and sculpt the body are also important. For Karan, it’s never been just about clothes; it’s been about lifestyles. She sees the entire picture from head-to-toe, from function to aesthetic appeal. Handbags and shoes are designed right alongside the clothes. The question, “How do I dress the leg?” inspired the launch of Donna Karan Hosiery. The question of the right bra influenced Donna Karan Intimates. The lists goes on to include belts, accessories and, as Karan puts it, “Everything you need to pull yourself together.”
For Karan, it all started in New York. She’s a product of Parsons School of Design, and she was hired by Anne Klein for her first summer job. Karan was named Klein’s successor following her death in 1974, and Louis Dell’Olio, a friend from Parsons, joined her a year later. Together, they designed the Anne Klein Collection. Karan created Anne Klein II in 1982, originating the concept of bridge and lifestyle dressing in fashion. After 10 years of designing Anne Klein, Karan was ready to go out on her own.