Donna Karan (born October 2, 1948) is an American fashion designer and the creator of the Donna Karan New York and DKNY clothing labels.
Karan was born Donna Ivy Faske in Forest Hills, Queens, USA. She grew up in Woodmere, Long Island, New York, with her stepfather, a tailor, and her mother, a model. Karan started selling clothing on Cedarhurst, New York’s Central Avenue at age 14.
She graduated from Hewlett High School in 1966, and then went to the Parsons School of Design (later known as Parsons the New School for Design after it became a division of The New School), for two years. She left to work for Anne Klein.
After leaving college, Karan worked for Anne Klein, eventually becoming head of the Anne Klein design-team, where she remained until 1985, when she launched her eponymous Donna Karan label.
Donna Karan International
Karan began her career as an assistant designer with Anne Klein in the late 1960s, where she was eventually promoted to associate designer in 1971. When Anne Klein herself died in 1974, Takihyo Corporation of Japan became the new owner and Karan, together with her former classmate and friend Louis Dell’Ollio, became head designer of the house. In 1984, Karan left Anne Klein and, together with her then husband Stephan Weiss and Takihyo Corporation, started her own business “to design modern clothes for modern people”. She showed her first women’s clothing collection in 1985.
Karan became well-known for her ‘Essentials’ line, initially offering seven easy pieces which could all be mixed and matched, and created a fully integrated wardrobe. Karan always insisted that she would only design clothes, like jersey dresses and opaque Lycra tights, that she would also wear herself. She was once described in the early 1990s by the New York Times as “[Ed Koch] in a stretchy black dress”.
In 1988, Karan, nicknamed The Queen Of Seventh Avenue by the time, extended her women’s ‘Donna Karan New York’ line by a less expensive one for younger women, called DKNY. Two years later, she created DKNY Jeans, a denim-inspired collection. DKNY for men was launched in 1992, one year after the ‘Signature’ line for men had been presented. In its heyday in the 1990s, the Donna Karan portfolio, for men and women, consisted of the top-of-the-line DKNY collection (black label, couture collection, partly hand-made, limited distribution) and its variation, the ‘Donna Karan Signature’ collection (golden label, designer sportswear, wider distribution), the DKNY lifestyle diffusion line, and the lower-priced DKNY Jeans (and DKNY Active) lines. The portfolio was later complemented by a children’s collection, beauty products, accessories and furniture. Sales rose up to $510.1 million in 1995 from $96.6 in 1991. More than half of the sales were attributed to the DKNY lines, couture contributed 15% and about 30% of the sales were generated by men’s clothing, accessories, cosmetics and other products. Almost a third of the sales were made in exports.
In 1997, Donna Karan quit as CEO of the company, but continues to act as chairwoman and designer in charge of the Donna Karan line. From 2002 on, most of the collection was designed by Peter Speliopoulos, a former Cerruti designer, with Karan contributing little subtleties or even entire new creations. The DKNY line is entirely designed by Jane Chung, who has been with Donna Karan since Karan’s days with Anne Klein.
In November 2000, the LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton) fashion giant completed the acquisition of both Gabrielle Studio, a company that owned the Donna Karan brand and was named after Karan’s daughter, and Donna Karan International Inc. for about $400 million and $240 million, respectively. LVMH subsequently re-arranged the Donna Karan portfolio: ‘Donna Karan New York’ for men was discontinued, as well as the ‘Signature’ lines for men and women.
In August 2008, Donna Karan relaunched her discontinued fragrance lines from the 1990s. These include DK Fuel for Men, Signature, Chaos, and Black Cashmere. They are available exclusively in the United States at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Manhattan and at Harrod’s, Knightsbridge, London.
The first Donna Karan Signature store was opened in London in 1996 at 27 New Bond Street The first DKNY flagship store opened in 1999 at Madison Avenue and 60th in New York. The Donna Karan store in Berlin was closed in December 2001. The DKNY label has its own stores, located predominantly in retail shopping malls. Since October 2006, Mark Weber is CEO of Donna Karan International.
Since 2005, Karan has offered online shopping of its DKNY and associated lines at the label’s web site.
The company maintains design studios, showrooms and offices at 550 Seventh Avenue (Manhattan) (headquarters) and 240 W. 40th St. in New York City.
In 2008, the animal rights group PETA initiated a campaign against Donna Karan for her use of fur in products and her contracted Fur Farmers’ alleged inhumane treatment of the animals.
On May 17, 2008, protesters, who were eventually arrested, crouched in the yoga ‘rabbit pose’ and covered themselves with fake blood while Karan spoke at the Yoga Journal Boston Conference at the Sheraton Boston Hotel. On September 7, 2008, PETA protesters picketed a Boston fashion show by waving signs reading: “Donna: Dump Fur.” On December 4, 2008, PETA members wearing Grim Reaper costumes and “bloody” fur coats protested at Karan’s boutique in Boston. On December 22, Donna Karan announced that her fall 2009 lines would be fur-free and stated that she had “no plans” to use fur in the future. A personal appeal from Tim Gunn, the chief creative officer for Liz Claiborne and announcer in a PETA video, is said to have influenced the decision after PETA’s two year campaign against her and Giorgio Armani.
However, by the Fall of 2010, Karan’s fall collection once again included fur items, including jackets and vests. In response to this, PETA held a demonstration on October 19, 2010 near a Democratic fundraiser in Donna Karan’s penthouse. At the event, which was organized by Karan and first lady Michelle Obama, the PETA protestors held placards that called Karan, “Bunny Butcher.” PETA protests against Karan because they allege that the fur industry kills 50 million animals, many of which are skinned alive.
On November 29, 2010, 16 different PETA profiles posted a vertical message on Karan’s Facebook page that read “DK BUNNY BUTCHER.” Each profile picture represented a letter in the message. “Bunny Butcher” is the nickname given to Karan by the organization for using rabbit fur in her collections.
In March, 2011, it was announced to the AFP that the celebrated Indian yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar had written to Karan, calling on her on behalf of himself and PETA India to stop using rabbit fur in her clothing lines.
In April, 2011, Karan repeatedly stated on camera that she did not use fur in any of her fashion line. Karan’s Fall 2011 “Pearls of Wisdom” collection, released in February, 2011, contained numerous outfits with fur.
She married Mark Karan in the early 1970s, had a daughter, Gabrielle, and divorced in 1978. In 1983, she married artist Stephen Weiss, who would later become co-CEO of the Donna Karan company. Weiss died of lung cancer in 2001.
Karan is the founder of many charities including, the Urban Zen initiative, which she founded with designer Sonja Nuttall.. On March 14 and 15 2008, Karan organized a large sale of her personal belongings and vintage company samples at her late husband’s studio to benefit the cause. In October 2008, a foundation run by Karan donated $850,000 to New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center. The grant will be used for testing whether yoga, meditation and aromatherapy can enhance the traditional cancer treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.