One of the most important designers in the history of American fashion, Donna Karan, is stepping down as chief designer of Donna Karan International.
The designer created a modern system of dressing for legions of successful women, while establishing a tremendous rapport with her customers, which continues to this day.
Karan cofounded DKI with her late husband Stephan Weiss and Takiyho Inc. in 1984. In 1996, DKI went public on the New York Stock Exchange, and in 2001, LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton paid $243 million for all outstanding shares in DKI, plus $400 million for Gabrielle Studio Inc., the licensor of the Donna Karan trademarks.
“LVMH and I have made this decision after much soul-searching,” said Karan on Tuesday. “I have arrived at a point in my life where I need to spend more time to pursue my Urban Zen commitment to its fullest potential and follow my vision of philanthropy and commerce with a focus on health care, education and preservation of cultures. After considering the right time to take this step for several years, I feel confident that DKI has a bright future and a strong team in place.”
Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Fashion Group, said, “Since 2001, LVMH and Donna Karan have partnered to develop Donna Karan International into a global business. It has been a privilege for all involved to collaborate with Donna and we are very pleased she has agreed to remain an adviser. We are committed to fully realizing the potential of the company while staying true to the spirit and value Donna has championed for more than 30 years.”
Caroline Brown, ceo of DKI, added, “Donna Karan is a visionary designer, who changed the way women dress by redefining power and sensuality. Her influence has been extraordinary and will continue to inspire for years to come. As she steps into this new role, I speak for the many teams at DKI in supporting her great legacy and reinforcing our commitment to it for our next chapter.”
At the present time, DKI won’t seek a successor for Karan as chief designer of Donna Karan Collection and will suspend that brand’s runway shows and collections for now. The company plans to continue to support the Karan brand through its strong license business. DKI will also reorganize its teams and structure in order to substantially increase its focus on the DKNY brand.
Ironically, Karan’s fall 2015 designer collection was deemed to be one of her best. “The opening look might as well have been a chic sandwich board heralding, ‘I’m back!’” wrote WWD in its review, which praised her tailoring, “spectacular outerwear,” dresses and blouses with volume, untricky layers, and “two black strapless evening gowns that were better than beautiful.”
In April, DKI made a design switch at DKNY, replacing Jane Chung, executive vice president of design at DKNY, with Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, founders and creative directors of Public School, the buzzy men’s wear brand. When they were hired, it was reported that they would report directly to Brown. September will mark their first DKNY collection.
According to sources, DKI may be considering merging the Donna Karan Collection into DKNY and offering a broader range of price points — a similar, but opposite tack taken by sister brand Marc Jacobs, which is incorporating Marc by Marc Jacobs into the Marc Jacobs collection.
She launched her signature collection in May 1985 after a run as codesigner with Louis Dell’Olio at Anne Klein. Her concept revolved around a jersey bodysuit and several interchangeable items that she called her “seven easy pieces.” Designing lifestyle pieces, rather than simply clothes, Karan set out to dress the woman from head to toe and developed personal relationships with her customers. In the early days, it was not unusual for Karan to be in a retail store, with pins in her mouth and down on her knees, personally fitting a customer in the dressing room. Her signature pieces have always been black cashmere, leather, stretch and molded fabrics, as well as silhouettes that wrap and sculpt the body.
On Tuesday, Karan said, “Donna Karan is a part of me, past, present and future. It has been an honor to speak woman to woman about ‘Seven Easy Pieces’ that forever changed the way women dress. I want to express my gratitude and my deepest feelings to the dozens and dozens of colleagues over the years who have helped take Donna Karan New York far beyond my wildest dreams.”