Donna Karan Used Her Life to Overcome Loss

Donna Karan, is one of the most influential fashion designers in the world; she is heralded for having brought affordable uptown chic clothing to the everyday fashion enthusiast, upon the launch of her brand DKNY in the 1980s. Karan’s desire was to dress the woman inside — the real, strong woman, living her best life, that we often don’t see at first glance.

In 2015, Karan stepped down as chief designer of DKNY International. Albeit, with New York fashion week still fresh in our minds — it made sense to turn the spotlight on this legendary talent.

Donna Karan’s life is indeed glamorous and one may think she has always led a tranquil existence – however, the truth is, she has endured much loss over the years. Still, Karan believes loss and life are two events that happen in sync and that there is still hope in a time of loss, “It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos.” Loss has always given birth to life, throughout Karan’s journey. Her first employer, Anne Klein, died of cancer in the same hospital she gave birth to her first child only days before. Disease and death has been a constant in Karan’s life — she has lost close friends and even her husband to various diseases; however, it was during the 80s, a period of new found success for Karan, and the aids epidemic, that she began to explore how she could put philanthropy and commerce together to make a real difference. Karan views clothing as having a deeper meaning, “When you allow fabric to talk it tells you something.” She was determined to use fashion, something she knew well, to do something she had never done before — educate the masses. In her philanthropic efforts, Donna Karan is focused on the re-framing of the long term behavioral change in the philanthropic world – she has raised over 10 million for Haiti by stimulating the local creative industry. Karan on creativity: “Where there is creativity there is hope.”

Donna Karan realizes that loss and life will always be something we as humans deal with – but it is still possible to live fully with that knowledge, “Each one of us is a patient, each one of us is a loved one — we all live in birth and death, it’s something none of us get [s] away with.” Despite suffering great loss, Karan has always picked herself back up – she is known for the energy she brings to everything she does and the ability to form strong soul to soul connections with those around her. Simply put, Donna Karan, in her own words, “lives in the moment and experiences creativity in the moment.” Which, over the years, has been reflective in her clothing line. From the creative genius she encountered while in India, to the vibrant shades of red she observed in Bhutan — the world is truly her inspiration and those who have embraced her designs over the years, have in a way tapped into a greater, richer world because of this fact. Karan finds stability in knowing that life is bigger than our present circumstance, “The minute you get self-absorbed, self-involved — you’re in trouble.”

Karan on creativity and where it comes from: “It is knowing what you’re receiving, being aware of it. We all have the ability to use our senses. Our senses are so gifted, there was a reason we were given our senses. Feel, touch, smell, hear — forget about you.” Perhaps the reason, Donna Karan is so inspirational – is because her heart is in her brand; there is a real person behind the celebrity, constantly striving to give back to her environment. Early in her career, Karan made the decision to be more than just a fashion designer – to use her influence to leave a lasting impression on her clients, “I realized I needed to address people, not just dress them.” It was one of her goals to foster an environment where people can connect with one another in an honest way. This vision gave birth to what is her ‘philosophy of caring’ — “Urban Zen,” a foundation and luxury lifestyle brand. Karan describes it as a “preservation of culture, healthcare and education.” Karan is certain that great things can emerge when communities come together to do good, “We’re all here together — how do we connect, collaborate, communicate and create change?” Karan has certainly witnessed how small the world can become, when we decide to live boldly and journey into the unknown to connect with others. It was while spending time in Australia on a nomadic project, she broke her arm. While at a hospital she met a healer – from there they went south together and eventually crossed paths with a man named Steve, who said he made fragrances. He then pulled out two bottles of fragrance — the same fragrance her husband, who at the time was dying of cancer, created 10 years earlier. This man, Steve, had created the first content of the fragrance for DKNY. After such an encounter, Karan is resolute in her belief that loss and life are in sync, “I so believe in the connection of the dots, in birth and death — there is no separation.”

As we look at the woman behind the iconic brand, we can discern a passion greater than fashion has fueled her life and work. Donna Karan, believes relationships should come before anything else including clothing, “We think so much about clothes, when all we want is a friend.” Clothing is for living but living should never be for clothing. Choosing to simply live, one day at a time, can take us through any difficulty we encounter. Karan sees fashion like this, “Design and style should work toward making you look good and feel good without a lot of effort so you can get on with the things that matter.” To that we say, indeed it should.

Author Bio: Toni Styles

Toni Styles, is a writer and blogger, living in Toronto, but born and raised in the Bahamas. She has edited several blogs over the years and had a weekly column featured in a leading Bahamian newspaper. She is currently working as an Outreach Associate with Powerful Outreach and as a writer for Toronto based fashion and art editorial, Novella Magazine.