Jasmine Dy

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New York City has always been diverse, multi-cultural, eccentric, fast, and loud. It makes for the most perfect environment for an industry like fashion where normal is boring and weird is encouraged. It may be different now than it was at the time Donna Karan grew up there, but its crazy setting is the background that would always be the grounding foundation of her brand.

Familial fashion background and innate interest and talent

Designer Donna Karan walks the runway at the DKNY Fall Winter 2013 fashion show.
Designer Donna Karan walks the runway at the DKNY Fall Winter 2013 fashion show. Credit:

Donna Karan has fashion ingrained in their family as she was born to a showroom model and sales rep mom and a tailor and suit designer dad. Though the odds were in her favor from the start, there’s no guarantee familial connections would immediately follow that she’d be one of the biggest names and influential people in the industry. Someone who staged her first fashion show in high school would be most likely the one to have that potential and that’s exactly how she reinforced her place in the fashion world, albeit just in her own way at first.

Her initiative would be seen in her decision to drop out at 14 to sell clothing at a local boutique and it would be justified by the validation of her talent as she was accepted at Parsons School of Design.

From Anne Klein to DKNY

While Karan was studying at Parsons, she interned for Anne Klein. Her work impressed the designer that she was soon brought on to the team as an associate designer. It wasn’t just impressive but more than that because following Anne Klein’s death, she was eventually appointed head designer, a position she held for the next 10 years. This means by the time she was 26 years old, there’d been much experience and achievement she’s had for a typical 20-something woman at the time.

She found a need for a more affordable choice of a fashion line in the market; to which she provided an answer with the Donna Karan New York (DKNY) brand. It was built with the help of her longtime friend from Parsons and was inspired by her original Signature collection. According to Karan, there’s so much pretentiousness in the way brands always design for women’s professional clothes, but for DKNY, she envisioned clothes meant to be worn for just having fun.

The many facets of DKNY

Adrienne Juliger and Fernanda Hin Lin Ly walks the runway at the DKNY Spring Summer 2017 fashion show
Adrienne Juliger and Fernanda Hin Lin Ly walks the runway at the DKNY Spring Summer 2017 fashion show. Credit: Ovidiu Hrubaru /

The whole way through 1985 to 1993, the fashion world saw the emergence of the many facets of DKNY, namely Donna Karan New York, DKNY Accessories, Hosiery, Ready-to-Wear, Jeans, Beauty Company, Shoes, Menswear, Kids, Intimates, Eyewear, and even Furniture. The succeeding years after that to present would be for establishing flagship stores all around the world.

In the early ‘90s, DKNY debuted the cold shoulder style through a dress. This well-loved trend used to be a questionable design back then. The dress was made and worn for a collection, but it was covered with a jacket. Linda Evangelista took a liking to it and removed the jacket as she wore it throughout Europe, which made Women’s Wear Daily to create buzz around it. She demanded it to be made as a gown and wore it to the Academy Awards.

For a recent limited capsule collection, some of the runway styles from the ‘90s were restored and improved for modern women. That was a time when the brand was just going through the motions of getting its name out and the collection included hoodies, t-shirts, dresses, and bodysuits.

DKNY without Donna Karan

Because of DKNY, Karan became the first person to earn the Superstar Award from Fashion Group International and receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Fashion Designers of America. Ever since it began, DKNY has become so big that it’s able to stand on its own even without its founder.

Donna Karan sold the company to Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy, a French luxury corporation, in 2001 but she officially stepped down from her position as the creative director in 2015, leaving her own brand to grow under the conglomerate. Leaving DKNY only means a deeper focus on another passionate venture: her lifestyle brand, Urban Zen, which brings awareness to health and wellness as her second husband died from lung cancer.

Though we continue to move towards a fashion world where DKNY is separate from Donna Karan, there’s still much to expect from both parties. DKNY continues to uphold the ethos of designing “modern clothes for modern people” and does it in a way that the clothes would relate to all kinds of people, much like how fashion in New York City works.

DKNY Boutique in Shanghai, China.
DKNY Boutique in Shanghai, China. Image credit: August_0802

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