Even after 25 years, Donna Karan remains the essence of New York style
As January blusters by, it is not too late to still reflect back on 2010 and a fashion event that registered high on my personal list of milestones. One of my favorite American designers, Donna Karan, is celebrating her 25th year in business as a designer.
This retrospective is particularly personal to me as a loyal follower who witnessed first hand many of the milestones of her career and still have in my possession samples that for nostalgic reasons, I guess, I have been unable to part with – the first bodysuit that became her signature, the bold shouldered jackets that introduced her DKNY collection, and even her very first signature fragrance, the iconic bottle designed by her late husband, artist and sculptor Steven Weiss.
Why has she remained my fave fashion gal throughout this ever-changing world of design?
Maybe it stems back to the fact that she was the very FIRST designer that I ever met? I remember so well when BF Janet Gurwitch and I were management executives at Foley’s and the now non-existent Musem of Fine Arts Houston Costume Institute awarded her the first ever Silver Slipper Award back in the very late '80’s at the Houston Country Club.
She was new and oh-so-haute, after introducing her very first collection on her own after leaving Anne Klein, where she had been the design protégé of that legendary designer. We knew she was going to be great and made it a point (actually, we were borderline groupies!) to boldly go up to her and tell her how much we were in awe of what she was doing.
She was so gracious, chatted with us and it seemed like it was only moments later that the industry awarded her Women’s Designer of the Year in 1990, being so taken by her very first collection (she has since won that award three times plus a Lifetime Achievement Award).
As young women on the upswing of our own careers, we were so excited, that we had just met her and knew she was going to be a major force in the fashion world. Little did I know at the time I would play a large part in the launch of her DKNY line for Foley’s as fashion director and that Janet would move on to Neiman’s to play a significant part in Donna’s business life, as Donna Karan is one of NM’s top designers
I also feel that my love for everything Donna stems from the fact that New York City, my fave city in America, is so clearly apparent in all that she has created. Donna explains this design marriage between her and the city she has always called home (born in Queens in 1948) on her own website. She says:
New York City inspires and fuels everything I do. Donna Karan and DKNY embrace the energy of the city. One is luxe sophistication and the other is fast, hip and spirited. Both are modern and reflect how we live day into night. To me they are like caviar and pizza, a limousine and a taxi, the skyline and the street.”
Sophisticated style was something I learned from the world of Donna Karan through my numerous visits to her showrooms and as an ardent student of her advertising and marketing techniques. I listened, I watched and I learned! In the 90’s her showrooms were the place to be, everyone from CEO’s to assistant buyers were there from all the major retailers across the country…it was buzzing with talent and style.
Her very first collection was filled with body-conscious but comfortable, elegant, and simple jersey/wool clothing for the upscale working woman. She added a touch of seduction to the everyday business suit. Her huge immediate success was due to her development of Essentials — seven easy pieces that every woman should have in her closet.
Bodysuits and leggings began with her. She created jackets and coats with bold shoulders and the entire over-sized look. At a time when no one was talking about dresses, they were there in her every collection. What self-proclaimed style-guru could forget the infamous cold-shoulder dress worn by Hillary Clinton at an inaugural bash and by gal-pal Barbra Streisand on many occasions…so Donna!
So, why am I still a Donna-fan in the midst of all this new talent that I respect greatly? Why am I still purchasing her clothing every season?
Maybe it’s because I’m still awed by my first encounter with her here in our town. I knew then she was going to be a major star and am extremely loyal. Being a Taurus, I’ll hang with you till the end of time!
I like to think that I also have a great appreciation for Donna, the woman, who designs with the modern woman in mind. She used to try on everything herself, not on fit models. so that most women could wear her clothes.
I still love that she replaced the power suit with her essential pieces that gave the working woman a different kind of power in the work place…a touch of femininity and sexiness that assured women of today that they could be powerful without having to look like a man. I’m sure that it’s all of these things that have led her to endure the many tests of time and kept women, like me, out there still buying!
Follow Roz Pactor on her fashion blog, The Chic Sheet.