B. October 2, 1948
Birthplace: Forest Hills, New York
Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics "Winnie," 1977, 1981, 1984, 1985 CFDA, Best Designer, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1997 Fashion Footwear Association of New York Award, 1988 CFDA, Best Men's Designer, 1991 Woolmark Award, 1992
Donna Karan grew up Donna Faske in Forest Hills, New York, and seemed destined from the beginning to be in the fashion industry: her father was a tailor and her mother was a sales representative and showroom model. After high school Karan moved to New York City to attend Parson's School of Design and landed an internship at Anne Klein in 1967. However, Karan's dream job became a nightmare when she was fired after nine months. At nineteen, Karan brought a youthful enthusiasm to her position as Klein's assistant or "head pin-picker-upper," but she lacked the maturity to work in a high-pressure position for such a meticulous woman. Fortunately, Karan was able to obtain a position under Patti Cappalli at Addenda, where she diligently worked for the next year and a half to learn all aspects of the apparel industry.
Karan returned to Anne Klein in 1968 determined to be successful. In 1971 her determination paid off when she became associate designer at Klein. The young designer worshipped Klein and became her right hand. When Klein died in 1974, a devastated Karan was appointed head designer and, with Assistant Designer Louis dell'Olio, carried on the Klein tradition. Karan, with dell'Olio, prepared to take the fashion community by storm, virtually reinventing women's fashions. Together the duo launched the Anne Klein II line in 1982 targeted toward working women, which was soon to become Karan's niche.
In 1984 Karan left Anne Klein, and with the backing of the Japanese conglomerate Takiyho, launched her own company. Karan's timing was perfect. Women were entering upper-level management positions in record numbers and were in need of a new uniform. The collections Karan designed combined comfort and functionality. The mix and match pieces built on basic black and were versatile enough to go from day to evening. Karan paired her signature body suits with wrap skirts and tailored jackets in silhouettes which flattered the figure and concealed imperfections. The looks were professional yet sexy, corporate but not masculine. Her collections broke sales records in department stores across the country.
As Karan's business grew, she developed new product lines and added licensing agreements. She launched her swimwear line in 1986, intimate apparel in 1992, and children's wear in 1992. Karan signed licensing agreements with Hanes for hosiery and Erwin Pearl for jewelry. The Donna Karan Beauty Company was formed in 1992 to develop fragrances and cosmetics. However, despite all her success, when Karan decided to launch a menswear line in 1991, her announcement was met with skepticism. No one was sure whether men would want to buy clothing designed by a woman, but her golden touch continued and the line was a success.
The American fashion industry has traditionally been viewed as an old boys' club, in which Karan was often considered a trespasser. Her designs, which revolutionized the working woman's wardrobe, earned her comparisons between herself and Coco Chanel. Her design philosophy is simple— she merely asks herself "what do I need?" and designs it. Karan has her finger on the pulse of the American woman and has a unique ability to interpret her every need and mood with her designs. See also: Anne Klein. Website: http://www.donnakaran.com
Was this article helpful?
Rock your personality in a dress you made yourself that reflects who you are, not what a department store thinks you want. Discover The Beginners Guide to Making Your Own Dress. You do not have to wear off the rack dresses any longer. You can make your own fashion statement on the world.