Designer Profiles: Donna Karan

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The genius behind DKNY

The Infamous Donna Karan, the genius behind DKNY was born Donna Ivy Faske on October 2, 1948, in Forest Hills, New York. Karan grew up in Hewlett, Long Island, New York, and from the very beginning of her life, she was immersed in the world of fashion.

Her mother worked as a model and had also worked in designer Chester Weinberg's showroom. Her father was a tailor and haberdasher but sadly he died when Donna was three years old. Her mother remarried and her stepfather made a living as a suit designer.

By the age of 14, Donna Karan had dropped out of school and begun selling clothing at a local boutique. In 1968, Karan was accepted into the highly respected Parsons School of Design in New York City. During her studies, Karan landed a prestigious summer job working for designer Anne Klein. Her work there proved so impressive that within two years she was named associate designer. She then married her first husband Mark Karan and became head designer for Anne Klein by age 26.

Becoming a fashion designer

In 1984, Karan decided to strike out into the fashion industry on her own following the death of Anne Klein and the divorce of her husband. At her side was Stephan Weiss, her second husband, a painter, and sculptor who positively impacted Donna Karan with the confidence to debut her first women's collection in 1985.

Donna Karan Young

From the start, Karan made it her mission to "design modern clothes for modern people." With an increase in women entering the professional workforce, Karan's timing proved to be impeccable. In 1988, Karan, recognizing the need for a more affordable fashion line, launched Donna Karan New York (DKNY), a women's line that was influenced by her original Signature collection. In 1990, she developed DKNY Jeans and then, two years later, debuted DKNY for men.

Sadly Donna Karan’s husband Stephan Weiss passed away from lung cancer in 2001, during their marriage it was said that he was always the influence for many of Karan’s men's wear collections. In 1992, when Karan launched her first perfume, she directed its creators to come up with something that smelled "like Casablanca lilies, red suede and the back of Stephan's neck." Since then a whole host of ancillary products have been created under the DKNY name, from children's clothes to furniture.

The defining moment that made him famous

Karan became well known for her 'Essentials' line, initially offering seven easy pieces centered around the bodysuit which could all be mixed and matched, and created a fully integrated wardrobe. Karan always insisted that she would design only clothes like jersey dresses and opaque Lycra tights that she would wear herself.

The year was 1989 and Donna Karan was totally tired of her teenage daughter Gabby raiding her closet. "There was a void in the market, so there it was—my daughter and her friends wearing all of my clothes. I couldn’t stand the fact that anybody else was dressing like me. It was supposed to be for me and my friends, not my daughter and her friends," the designer once exclaimed.

So to keep her daughter out of her closet, Karan decided to revamp and relaunch DKNY. She took the brand a few steps further, by boldly going as far as to create plenty of androgynous designs and include many gender-fluid references.

In the first collection, men's ties were knotted around models’ waists as belts and there were plenty of unisex styles, including bomber jackets and T-shirts delivered in packs of three, à la Hanes. Compared to the heavily styled silhouette of the moment, these paired back pieces felt like a breath of fresh air and the fashion press still praise the DKNY Fashion house for the innovation today.

Donna Karan Family

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2 comments

  • Posted on by Dallas Mitchell

    I love the DKNY brand but never knew much about the person behind the label. I had no idea she dropped out of school at such a young age and began following her dream. She had the right connections for it I suppose so that does help! Had I wanted to attempt this, my mum would have had my head! LOL Donna seems like such a cool and fascinating woman. Thanks for sharing her story!

  • Posted on by Jasmine Hewitt
    Donna Karen is still a favorite brand of mine after all this time

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