Donna Karan Talks Mentors, Leotards, and Saying Good-bye to Her Namesake Brand

Photo: VOGUE/Annie Liebovitz

Donna Karan has lived enough for several lifetimes, and she’s crammed all of that experience into a much-anticipated memoir, My Journey (with a foreword by Ur-Karanite Barbra Streisand). The book comes out in mid-October, but the September issue of Vogue contains several excerpts from different points in Karan’s long career. The designer reflects honestly on the role of her mentor Anne Klein (who died just as Karan was giving birth to her daughter Gabby), the genesis of her famed Seven Easy Pieces collection, and her bittersweet farewell to the brand she created.

On learning how to be a boss from Anne Klein:
“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.”

On the genesis of her own line:
“Creatively, I wanted to design a small collection of clothes for me and my friends; I was tired of designing for other people. I wanted to explore what I wanted to wear, which was basically a Danskin leotard with a large scarf wrapped around my hips — the same way I dressed in high school! … I called [her first collection] my seven ‘easy’ pieces: The bodysuit; the wrap-and-tie skirt; the pants; the tailored jacket; the suede wrap jacket; the camel coat; the gold sequined skirt. Easy — but let’s be clear: Designing them was anything but.”

On leaving her namesake brand:
“One of my most emotional moments was walking into the design room and seeing all the gorgeous fabrics that had just arrived from Europe for the spring collection that wouldn’t be. I immediately started touching the luxe textures, and within minutes began draping them on a mannequin. I couldn’t help myself. September 2015 will be only the second season since I was nineteen — the other was 9/11 — that I have not presented a spring show.”

Donna Karan on Mentors, Leotards, and Good-byes