Gifted designer, business leader and dedicated philanthropist, Donna Karan is a true fashion icon. In fact, her effortless and sophisticated clothes have made such an incredible impact on the way women dress – from city streets and board rooms to the red carpet – it’s impossible to imagine the industry without her. We are so honored to have Donna share a bit of her story, career advice and style picks with you today in our latest Woman of Style interview.
Early Life & Career
"[My childhood] was consumed by fashion. My father was a custom tailor, and my mother a showroom model. Later, even my step father was in the industry. I put on my first fashion show in high school, designing, sewing and modeling my own clothes. Fashion was always a part of my life as long as I can remember."
Her First Job
"My first job was as a salesgirl at Sherri’s Boutique in Long Island. It was a very cool shop, selling all the hot trends of the moment. I was best sales girl in the place."
Donna Karan and Louis Dell'Olio at Anne Klein in 1980. Photo: Getty Images
Early Career Lessons
"That fashion requires more than talent – you have to also be dedicated and driven. Anne [Klein] fired me when I was 19 because she didn’t think I was taking my job seriously enough. She re-hired me a year later after I proved myself working with Patti Capelli."
What Inspired Her To Launch Her Own Line
"Like every woman I know, I used to stand in front the closet and feel I had nothing to wear – and I was a fashion designer! So my goal was to create the kind of sophisticated, New York-inspired clothes that me and my friends needed. Little did I know I had so many friends!"
"It’s less about particular moments than it is about the message. I’m proud we aligned Donna Karan and New York. That we celebrated women. That we never stopped finding solutions to problems. That we accentuated the positive and deleted the negative. That we took her day into evening with comfort and ease. That we kept evolving forward. That we never felt the job was done."
Her Typical Day
"Honestly, there is no typical day. I wake up at 7am and have my hot water with lemon. If I’m home, I practice yoga or pilates with an instructor in my apartment. At 9, I take a steam bath, then throw on some layers over my bodysuit and grab a thermos of green juice as I leave the apartment. In the car, I look at my to-do list, prioritize what’s next and maybe do an interview by phone. I’m either headed to my design studio, working on an upcoming collection or off to my Urban Zen center, where I could be planning any number of initiatives. For me, life is balance of fashion and philanthropy – it never ends. The problem is my appointments tend to blend into one another, because wherever I am, I get involved and tend to stay involved. Nights are usually filled with cocktail parties, meetings and dinners. The calendar is crazy, but I really try to pack a lot into a week. There’s just no way I can get it all done, but I try anyway."
The Most Challenging Thing About Being A Designer
"The deadlines. Designing by calendar day is difficult – whether it’s a show or opening a collection. You’re counting on a lot of things working in alignment – fabric deliveries, shoes, sample makers – all the bits and pieces that have to come together. And yes, I’m always changing things, which doesn’t make it any easier. It isn’t until the clothes are headed to the runway that I can truly let go. It’s why I always put “to be continued” on the press release."
Her Role Models
"Anne Klein and Patti Capelli. They took this young girl and worked with me until I got it. I stand on their shoulders."
The Best Career Advice She's Ever Received
"Don’t believe what you read in the press, because if you believe the good, you have to believe the bad too."
What She Looks For In An Employee
"Passion and dedication. You really need both."
What To Wear On A Job Interview At Donna Karan
"There is no ‘should.’ I would like her to wear something that expresses herself in some distinct way. Personal style is everything to me."
How She Gives Back
"When you’ve been given so much at such a young age, you can’t help but wonder what your true purpose is. It’s important for me to use my profile and platform to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas I care most about: wellness, preservation of culture and the integrated education of our children. That’s what led me to open my Urban Zen Foundation."
Style & Personal Life
A Recipe For Instant Glamour
"A little makeup and heels. Those two things take me from day into night."
Style Advice Every Woman Should Follow
"Accentuate the positive, delete the negative. And show your shoulders – you never gain weight there."
Her Beauty Must-Haves
"Makeup wise, it’s a khol pencil, concealor and lip balm. For the body, it’s Kahina Giving Beauty Argan Oil for my hair and skin, and Young Living Essential Oils – Thieves is my favorite."
How She Stays Healthy
"I seek the calm in the chaos, which means mostly yoga and some form of meditation every chance I get. I love a deep tissue massage to help me unwind at the end of a long day."
How She Finds Balance
"It’s a struggle, but you have to find time for yourself to renew the spirit and rejuvenate the body. I’m constantly planning my next escape, even if it’s just to my weekend house in East Hampton or my home in Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos. I love nature in all its glory; I don’t care if it’s a beach, a mountain or a ski slope. My favorite escape of all is time with my family. My grandchildren calm me down in a nanosecond."
Three Things We Didn't Know About Donna
1. "I’m a reiki master – it’s just a natural talent."
2. "I’m insanely flexible."
3. "I text 24/7. If you want to reach me, send a text."