The catty feuding, subtle snubs, and artificial air kisses so often expected of the fashion world are refreshingly absent from the memoir of American style icon Donna Karan.
“As a designer, my goal has always been to help women feel good about themselves,” said Karan, who recently held a book-signing event for My Journey at Tecolote Book Shop in Montecito. Karan was at the center of the way the American professional woman dressed for more than three decades, but she says her focus was always on the woman inside the clothes and not the clothes themselves. “I don’t think any woman wants to be thought of as wearing an attractive dress,” she said. “You want to be what’s attractive, not the dress.”
Karan was born in New York where her mother worked as a fashion model, often for her father, who was a skilled suit tailor. “I was born into it,” explained Karan. “Fashion was my destiny.” Karan lost her father when she was still a young child and was left with her absent and erratic mother.
Showing early promise as a designer, Karan wasted no time making her moves into the spotlight of her Seventh Avenue legacy. When her mentor, Anne Klein, lost her battle with breast cancer, a grieving twenty-something Karan stepped up to lead the house. “My heart is constantly being closed and opened again,” said Karan. “When something happens, you really don’t have a choice. You have to carry on and figure it out.”
Despite her overwhelming success, Karan was abruptly forced out of Anne Klein and went on to immediately launch Donna Karan International, where she served as chief designer, presenting back-to-back shows for almost 30 years and building the company’s value to $239 million. The brand umbrella included the Donna Karan Collection, the iconic DKNY, and a line of fragrances and men’s wear.
“I’ve learned that the universe has plans for you, no matter what you may think or plan for yourself,” said Karan. “That doesn’t make it easy to accept, but there’s only so much that’s in your control.”
The multiple Coty Award winner recently retired from the house that bears her name to focus on Urban Zen, a brand inspired by her philosophy of living. “Standing still is not in my blood,” she said. “I have to do something, or I go crazy.”
Urban Zen expresses Karan’s more spiritual side, including her passion for preserving ancient cultures through developing sustainable business practices. “It’s called a soulful economy, where we become conscious consumers who care about where a product comes from and who benefits from it,” she said.
In Karan’s book, she generally finds much to cherish about life, loss, and spiritual rebirth.
“I don’t hold onto grudges,” she said. “In design and in life, I try to accentuate the positive and delete the negative wherever I can.”