Donna Karen of New York has truly become a household name. In my house especially because I refuse to buy jeans or denim from anyone else but her. I get so many compliments that my jeans look tailor made for me, and that does nothing but fuel my addiction to those fabulous pants. However, we are not here to discuss my love of her denim, but to talk about DKNY.
Donna Karen, whose birth name is Donna Ivy Faske, was born on October 2, 1948 in Forest Hills, Queens. She grew up in Long Island with her stepfather ( a tailor who died when she was 3) and her mom ( a model), which is a perfect formula for success in the fashion industry. Her stepfather was also in the fashion business.
She began selling clothing at the age of 14( a true hustler) on Cedarhurst a Central Avenue in New York. In high school she interned for Liz Claiborne. Additionally while in high school she designed her first line and put on her first show. In 1966 she graduated from Hewlett High School and went to Parsons School for Design, like many other famous designers that we know and love. Similarly, she left after two years, which is also a trend among great designers, to work for Anne Klein. While at Anne Klein in 1973, she married her first husband Mark Karan and divorced him in 1978. She worked her way up to the head of the design team at A. K. and held that position until 1985.
When she left A.K. she started her own company and created/ invented “the body” ( one of the most practical items of clothing to come out of the 80’s). That was her claim to fame. Her Essentials line offered seven pieces that wrap and sculpt the body, which every woman should have and of course, has expanded to about 200 pieces.
In 1988/89 she introduced a less expensive DKNY line, in order to dress her daughter. She designs all her lines without thinking of the top model, but the actual end consumer of her products. She calls her DKNY line the fast food to her caviar of her signature collection.
During the early 90’s her and her husband, Stephan Weiss whom she married in 1983, ran her company. In 1995 Weiss stepped down to concentrate on his real passion, sculpting and in 1997 Donna resigned as the CEO of her company. Soon after in 2001 her husband died of lung cancer in 2001. That same year Donna Karan’s line was acquired by LVMH for around $643 million dollars ( 2/3rds of that went to Donna personally), however Donna still remains in creative control of the company’s lines.
Donna relinquished her powers within her company because her husband was fighting cancer, which can surely cause enough emotional and physical strain and stress. From that experience, she was able to launch Urban Zen project in 2007. Her interest in Yoga came from the times that she shared yoga with her cancer stricken husband as a way to help ease his treatments. She has given millions to teach patients and care givers these techniques as well.
Donna has experienced her share of hurdles in her life. In February of 2008 she fired her assistant after she allowed animal right activists in her home. Karen, at the time, had been targeted by PETA for her fur designs during fashion week. When she came home to the activists they tried to show her a graphic video. Karen and a female activist got in a verbal debacle. The protests didn’t stop there. The activists attended her show soon after wearing masks resembling Donna and carrying bloody, dead rabbits. Eww. Karan never lost her cool throughout that whole charade because of the kind hearted person that she is. Karan, for her 2010 collection will go Fur Free… I guess the trespassing and harassment by PETA really worked. Or maybe it was the website DonnaKarenBunnyButcher.com or a video received from Tim Gunn that urged her to cease her use of fur. Either way, PETA and Tim got what they wanted.
Karan is also a major believer in the support . She recently told 150 customers at Neiman Marcus not to feel bad about buying expensive things because it is actually helping the designers, in addition to all the people involved in the making, advertising, and selling of the garment. She also supports a lot of charities and philanthropic causes.
Karen, known for her innate ability to understand a woman’s body, has been humbled by her years in the industry. She is thankful for her family that helped her get through everything. Though times got tough for her she always had the underlying support of her 3 children and 7 grandchildren. A touching quote from her comes from NY MAG:
“My husband, my mother, and my boss all died on a day of a show,” Karan says. “Black and white. Birth and death. I have to believe it has something to do with karma. That’s how I cope.” I know that has to be hard. But she did pull herself to date again which has kept her happy.
As a great entrepreneur, wife, mother, and designer, many women look up to her. She had to balance the good and bad in life with no breaks in between. She knew, however, that in being successful you must take risks and that is exactly what she has done. Her risks have paid off and have been recognized by organizations near and far. In the 80’s she won 3 Coty awards. She won Womenswear designer of the year in 1990 and 1996, followed by winning Menswear designer of the year in 1992. In 2003, Karan was the first American designer to receive Fashion Group International’s “Superstar Award.” A year later, Karan’s Alma Mater Parson’s gave her an honorary doctorate to commemorate her contribution to the school and fashion industry. That same year she won the CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award as well. Finally, in 2007, Glamour magazine named Karan one of their Women of the Year.
In addition to receiving awards, she has also been know for her generous giving of both her finances and her time. She raises money for AIDS awareness and education with Seventh on Sale, a apparel sale which the procedes go to Karan’s cause. She is a co chair the “Kids for Kids” events for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation as well. She also participates in “Super Saturday” which is a flea market that benefits the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. She also co founded the Karen Weiss Foundation in 1999 with her late husband, for which she also runs her Karan’s Urban Zen Initiative.
I chose Donna Karen as the focus of my blog today because she has pushed through a lot of hard times and has still turned out successful and grounded. She was able to withstand divorce, deaths, criticisms and much more and still remain a kind hearted , generous ( not to mention fabulous looking) 61 year old designer.
P.S. Donna has also been compared to Oprah because of her weight ups and downs and here is what I have to say to those people, get a life. If you were going through a quarter of the things Donna experienced I am sure you wouldn’t handle it any better.