Donna Karan doesn’t wear a bra, and who can blame her. Instead, the living legend sports bodysuits—one of the game-changing "seven easy pieces" she launched under her eponymous label in 1985. While visiting Chicago's high-fashion boutique Neapolitan Collection to sign copies of her memoir, My Journey, Karan—looking every bit the New Yorker she is in head-to-toe black—shared her colorful responses to our most pressing questions.
In person, Karan is as warm and approachable as she is insightful and honest, chatting candidly about everything from fashion to family—and, of course, her friendship with a civic-minded style icon named Hillary.
The Lookbook: The fashion industry is appealing to younger and younger generations all the time, but you’re somebody who has always kept women at the forefront. How would you like to see women represented in today’s industry?
Donna Karan: For me personally, I needed clothes for myself. That’s why I started my company. I have a certain body type: I like to be held in, and I like to feel secure. I like to work from day into evening… It’s [about] my comfort in my body, from the minute I get up in the morning to the minute I go to bed at night, so it’s not like it’s for older people, but it’s ageless, as opposed to...these little dresses [I see in stores.] [During a recent shopping experience] I said, “Oh, they have children’s clothing for my grandchildren!” And they [said], “No.” I was absolutely shocked.
The Lookbook: It’s been 25 years since your presidential-themed ad campaign, “In Women We Trust”—
DK: It was 25 years ago?
The Lookbook: Yes, it was launched in 1992. It seems so timeless, but also really timely. How do you view that campaign now?
DK: I sent Hillary [Clinton] a photograph [from that campaign] because it is so right to have a woman running for president—even though I said to her, “Hillary, you could do so much out of the office. Once you’re in that position, between these party systems right now, when do you get [to do] what you want to get done?”
But, on the other hand, given the world issues right now we deal with, I don’t think anybody could do it as well as Hillary. We’ve got problems. It’s the whole world right now that we’re dealing with, and there are very few people who understand that who’ve had the experience that Hillary’s had.
The Lookbook: Knowing what you know now, if you could go back to 1984 when you were first launching your company, what would you tell yourself?
DK: I had somebody in my company whose job was to travel the world and inspire me. There’s something wrong with this picture. [Laughs] The one thing I say to kids in high school: After high school, do not go to college. I don’t believe in going to college until you’ve traveled, you’ve seen the world, you’ve felt from your heart what you want. I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not been in the world.
A girl called me last night—I had this argument until 3:30 in the morning—[and] she says, “My son has to go to [college],” and I go, “Give your son a break. Let him see the world and let him be inspired because it’s going to open a whole new spectrum.” I mean, I didn’t even know where Haitiwas when I started working there, and it’s changed my life. [Editor’s note: Karan works with artisans in Haiti as part of her Urban Zen Foundation]
The Lookbook: Fill in the blank: _______ is the new black.
DK: Your iPhone—because you’re always on it!
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