"Everything I do is a matter of heart, body and soul," says 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, feelings and emotions."
In fact, Karan credits her feminine instincts for the success of the company she founded in 1984 with her late husband Stephan Weiss, which went on to become a publicly-traded enterprise in 1996, and then five years later, was acquired by its present owner, the French luxury conglomerate, LVMH, Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Says Karan, "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."
How Karan meets that challenge can run from the simplicity of a bodysuit (where it all began) 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.
A modern system of dressing, Karan's concept is based on seven easy pieces, where a handful of interchangeable items work together to create an entire wardrobe that goes from day to evening, week day 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," says Karan. "That's why New York is on the label. It sets the pace, the attitude."
Speaking in a multi-cultural language of fashion, Karan is inspired by the life and innate style of the artist. Quintessential hallmarks include black cashmere, leather, stretch and molded fabrics, often developed by Karan, as well as silhouettes that wrap and sculpt the body.
For Karan, it's never been just about clothes; It's about lifestyles. She sees the entire picture from head-to-toe, from function to aesthetic. Handbags and shoes are designed right alongside the clothes. "How do I dress the leg?" inspired Donna Karan Hosiery. "The right bra?" Donna Karan Intimates. "The perfect glasses?" Donna Karan Eyewear. The list goes on to include belts, accessories and, as Karan puts it, "Everything you need to pull yourself together."
Karan's quest for the perfect jeans, as well as her desire to dress her daughter Gabby, resulted in the 1989 birth of DKNY. Fast fashion with an urban mind-set, DKNY is what Karan calls "the pizza to Collection's caviar." DKNY grew so popular and diverse that other brands and labels spun from it, including DKNY Jeans, DKNY Active, DKNY Underwear, DKNY JEANS Juniors, AND DKNY Kids. (Not surprisingly, Karan's grandkids and friends' kids had much to do with the latter). Like Collection, DKNY has an accessories and show collection to underscore its New York City street-smart look.
Karan saw that the many men in her life, starting with her husband, also needed a sophisticated system of dressing. Considering Karan's father was a custom tailor, a menswear collection was inevitable, and it was founded in 1992. Since men cannot live by doubleface cashmere suits alone, DKNY Men emerged a year later in answer to his casual, sport side, which then beget its own dress shirt and tailored clothing collections.
Determined to seduce all the senses, Karan took on the world of beauty in 1992 under the business and creative leadership of her husband, who designed the bottles and jars for the signature fragrances and their ancillary products. The beauty division went on to introduce best-selling fragrances. Completing the lifestyle approach to design, in 2001 Karan introduced a Donna Karan Home collection "all about touch and feel," which includes everything from luxe bedding and candles to cashmere throws, and DKNY home, which accents INTERIORS with fashion-forward bedding and accessories.
Using her company's visibility and resources for social causes is a heartfelt priority. A member of CFDA 's board of directors, Karan conceived and spearheaded its Seventh on Sale benefits to raise funds for AIDS awareness and education. Karan co-chairs the annual New York "Kids for Kids" events for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, as she has since its 1993 inception, as well as underwrites "Super Saturday," an annual designer flea market/barbeque founded with the late Liz Tilberis in 1998 to benefit the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. To facilitate her many on-going philanthropic involvements, in 1999, Karan and Weiss established the Karan Weiss Foundation.
Karan's Urban Zen Initiative, founded in 2007, is the culmination of Karan's philanthropic efforts. explains Karan, "I have founded the Urban Zen Initiative to create a working structure for advancing wellness, preserving culture and empowering children. These are the causes that mean the world to me."
2010 The Donna Karan Company LLC