Karan was born in Forest Hills, Queens, New York City. She graduated from Hewlett High School in 1966, and then went to the Parsons School of Design.
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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 Donna Karan label.
Sasha Pivovarova in DKNY by Donna Karan
Karan began her career as an assistant designer with Anne Klein in the late 1960s, where she was promoted to associate designer in 1971. As Klein’s assistant, Karan was a participant in The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show on November 28, 1973. When 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.
In 1988, Karan, nicknamed The Queen Of Seventh Avenue, extended her women’s ‘Donna Karan New York’ line by creating a less expensive clothing line 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.
Karan left her CEO position in 1997, but continued as chairwoman and designer for the Donna Karan line. After 2002 Karan’s designer contributions became less and less. In August 2008, Karan relaunched her discontinued fragrance lines from the 1990s.
Karan won the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award in 1977 and once again in 1982 (together with Louis Dell’Ollio for Anne Klein).
She was inducted into the Coty Hall Of Fame in 1984.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) named her Menswear Designer of the Year 1992 and Womenswear Designer of the Year 1990 and 1996. She was a nominee for the latter again in 2003 and was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the CFDA in 2004. She won special CFDA awards in 1985, 1986 and 1987.
Karan, born as Donna Ivy Faske, is Jewish. She married Mark Karan in the early 1970s, they had a daughter and divorced in 1978. In 1983, she married artist Stephan Weiss, who would later become co-CEO of the Donna Karan company. Weiss died of lung cancer in 2001.
Karan’s philanthropic work includes the Urban Zen initiative, which she founded with designer Sonja Nuttall. In March 2008, Karan sold personal belongings and vintage company samples to benefit the cause. In October, a foundation run by Karan donated $850,000 to New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center.
Karan currently resides in Northwest Harbor (East Hampton), New York, but maintains residences in New York City and the Turks & Caicos Islands.
DKNY is a New York-based fashion house specializing in fashion goods for men and women founded in 1984 by Donna Karan.
After 15 years at Anne Klein, ten of which as head designer, in 1984 Karan and her late husband Stephan Weiss were offered the opportunity to start their own business by Takihyo LLC, owner of Anne Klein. The company became a publicly traded venture in 1996, and in 2001 it was purchased by French corporation Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy.
Donna Karan New York
Donna Karan’s mainline label Donna Karan New York, also referred as Donna Karan Collection, debuted for fall 1985 with the women’s collection Seven Easy Pieces, “where a handful of interchangeable items work together to create an entire wardrobe that goes from day to evening, week day to weekend, season to season”. In July 1991 she launched her first menswear collection.
The “New York” part on the label is there to set “the pace, the attitude” of the fashion house’s offering.
DKNY and other divisions
Inspired by her daughter Gaby, Donna Karan founded DKNY in 1989 as a younger, more affordable fast fashion diffusion line to run alongside her existing Donna Karan New York label. Many labels and brands have branched off of the original DKNY brand/label including DKNY Jeans, DKNY Active, DKNY Underwear, DKNY Juniors, DKNY Kids, DKNY Pure. DKNY Men, launched in 1992, consists of tailored suits, dress wear, formalwear, casual wear, sportswear, and shoes.
The Donna Karan Beauty collection, which specializes in fragrances, was launched in 1992. In 2001, the Donna Karan Home collection, which includes traditional luxury bedding and accessories, and DKNY Home, which has more contemporary and fashion-forward bedding, were introduced.
Cara Delevigne has been the face of DKNY for multiple seasons.
Stores opened in London in 1997 and New York City in 1999. The DKNY headquarters is located at 550 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, New York. There are currently seventy Donna Karan collection and DKNY stores globally, including twenty stores in China including Hong Kong and Shanghai, two stores in Canada including Vancouver, B.C. and Montreal, four in Dubai. DKNY has also opened some stores in Denmark.
Since 2005, Donna Karan has offered online shopping of its DKNY and associated lines at the label’s web site. Products range from DKNY and DKNY Jeans womenswear, accessories, underwear, shoes, baby clothing, the PURE collection to DKNY menswear. The latter was available up until the spring 2002 season. Since then only the DKNY Jeans label, underwear, eyewear and watches have been offered online for men.
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