Step daughter of a tailor, Donna Karan has parlayed her talent for design into a multi-million dollar company that leads the world in design.
Donna Karan once told an interviewer, “I didn’t choose to be a designer. I was born a designer.” Perhaps that was typical New York fashion designer speak, or perhaps she’s right. With over $600 million in yearly sales from her growing list of fashion, perfume, and home furnishing lines Karan doesn’t seem to have been born to be a New York taxi driver.
Born on October 4, 1948 in Long Island, New York as Donna Faske, Karan had a leg up on the fashion world. Her step father was a tailor with his own company and her mother was a floor model and sales person. She exhibited, from an early age, a flair for design and fashion and began attending Parson’s School of Design, a prestigious design school created in 1896. She still gives occasional guest lectures there.
In her second year of attending Parsons, Karan got a job with the famous designer Anne Klein. Already finding herself doing what she was supposedly studying to do, Karan never went back to Parsons. Karan worked closely with the fashion icon until Klein’s sudden death in 1974. Upon Klein’s death Karan was chosen to become lead designer at the Klein company.
In 1973 Donna Faske married boutique owner Mark Karan. The two had a daughter named Gabrielle. Although the marriage didn’t last, the name did.
For this ambitious person, heading up one of the most famous design companies in the world was simply not enough. In 1985 along with her new husband, sculptor Stephen Weiss, and with the financial backing of Anne Klein’s parent company, Takihyo Corporation of Japan, Karan founded her own company under her own name. One year later, in 1985, Donna Karan released her first collection and became, overnight, a huge fashion star, based on the idea of clothing that she would wear herself. She came up with the concept of essentials, seven interchangeable pieces of clothing that could go together to simulate an entire wardrobe. The simplicity and elegance of her new line was immensely popular.
Her introduction in 1988 of her youth-oriented DKNY line brought her even more fame, accolades and, of course, profit. The line was based on clothing she thought her daughter Gabrielle would wear. Now younger people could afford this lower priced line and yet still wear the high fashions of Donna Karan.
Karan and her husband Weiss had three children and worked together to lead the company and become wildly successful. Together they introduced many new lines including DKNY, DKNY jeans, DKNY essentials and the Donna Karan collection. Karan also expanded her repertoire and added Donna Karan Home Furnishings which attempted to design for a total environment. This line includes scented candles, sculpted objects, pillows and throws. She has also branched out to include a high selling line of perfumes.
Karan’s fashion holdings have increased to the point where the company that bears her name employs 2000 people and brings in a revenue of $620 million per year. However, Karan gave up direct control of her company in 2001. In that year, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the French conglomerate that has bought up many fashion houses purchased Karan company, and it’s trademark, for $643 million.
Karan still designs for the company. It is, after all, not her choice. She was just born a designer.