Donna Karan reflects on her early days in fashion, her groundbreaking label and embarking on her latest chapter, in her in upcoming memoir “My Journey.” In her own words an exclusive excerpt from her book was provided to Vogue Magazine. Read the Full Vogue Exclusive Excerpt here—> My Journey. But here’s just a little taste to wet your appetite. “My Journey” will make its debut on October 13, 2015, and if you happen to be in New York City on October 15, 2015, then stop by my favorite place to be 92Y, and join Donna Karen and Fern Mallis in Conversation as part of the Fashion Icon Series. You can purchase your tickets here–>Donna Karan Fashion Icon Event.
The first thing I learned when I took the job as chief assistant to Anne Klein in 1971 was that she was the boss. Yes, she had her investors, and her husband and business manager, Chip. But Anne was as much an entrepreneur as she was a designer. She controlled every aspect of her company—which clothes were sold and where, how they were presented—and everyone reported to her. I admired her strength and appreciated how much she sweated the details. Nothing was too small for her to have an opinion about, from the positioning of darts and buttons on a blouse to the coffee mugs we used in the showroom. She didn’t miss a trick.
Anne liked to design at night. Often, it would be just her, me, and a model. She’d go into a zone and fit for hours and hours, a practice I picked up from watching her. I’d pass her pins, and she would work painstakingly on the model. Because of Anne I, too, became a stickler for fit. To me, fitting is sculpture, a three-dimensional creation on a body.
Where Anne was all about silhouette, I was passionate for fabric—and she let me shop in Europe. When it came to inspiration, she’d say, “God gave you two eyes; use them!” In many ways she was like her predecessor Claire McCardell, another great American fashion icon. Neither could separate being a woman from the clothes they designed. Clothes can and should be beautiful, but they only work if you want to wear them in your everyday life.
“Donna, I plan to travel for a while,” Anne said one day in the late spring of 1972. “I need you to do holiday on your own.” With Anne away, I felt free, and my mind raced with design ideas. My collection was couture in feeling, with every piece artisanal and special. I used my favorite colors—black, white, red, and vicuña—and incorporated lots of embroidery and leather. That collection foreshadowed my future. The truth was Anne hadn’t been traveling that summer; she had breast cancer.
Right around this time, my husband Mark and I learned that I was pregnant. I couldn’t have been happier. I was going to be a mother—the thing I wanted more than anything. I fully intended to be a stay-at-home mom. Because Anne wasn’t well, I worked even longer hours than usual, heading home at midnight or later. I wanted to prepare as much as possible for my maternity leave.
While I was in labor on Long Island, Anne was at Mount Sinai in Manhattan with pneumonia—and no one was at work. Our pre-fall collection was due that very week. We spoke on the phone hospital to hospital, discussed how many buttons should be on a double-breasted navy cashmere coat.
Gabby, all of ten pounds, had no sooner popped out than our investor Gunther Oppenheim called my hospital room in that deep German voice of his: “Donna, ve need you to come back to vork.”
“Would you like to know if I had a boy or a girl?” I asked. “It’s a girl.”
I checked with my doctor, who forbade me to go back to work so soon.
When I told Gunther, he said, “OK, ve come to you,” and less than a week later the whole staff arrived at the new house Mark and I had moved to in Lawrence, Long Island. I had the bagels and lox all spread out. I assumed they were coming to coo over Gabby and maybe bring flowers and a casserole. Then I saw the trucks arrive, the racks of clothes being wheeled up my driveway. This was business.
From My Journey by Donna Karan, © 2015, published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.