Donna Karan (Photo: Ruven Afanador)
Just five months after her fall 2015 designer collection had drawn raves from the fashion press, Donna Karan surprised the industry with something else amazing: After 30 years, she was stepping down as chief designer of Donna Karan International. Karan had made the choice to devote her creative energies to what she described as following “my vision of philanthropy and commerce with a focus on health care, education, and preservation of cultures.”
The vehicle for that work would be her Urban Zen Foundation, which Karan established in 2007. Among its international projects, the foundation worked with the Clinton Global Initiative to develop and support sustainable artisan opportunities in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Five years later, that initiative culminated in the opening of the vocational education center D.O.T. (Design Organization Training) in Port au Prince, a collaboration with her alma mater, Parsons School of Design.
In a conversation with Robin Givhan, the Washington Post’s fashion critic, Karan discusses how a founder of a global fashion business redesigned the concept of what success means both professionally and personally. Along the way, she covers her start in the fashion industry; the guidance and legacy of her mentor, legendary designer Anne Klein; how she built her iconic brand by creating clothes that reflected an understanding of the lives of her female customers; and the influence of husband, sculptor Stephan Weiss, whose death in 2001 sparked Karan to re-evaluate every area of her life.
Copies of Karan’s book, My Journey (Ballantine), are available for sale.