The knack of knowing what women want in their wardrobes catapulted Karan into the industry's upper echelons. “If you think about it, Calvin Klein was neutral, Ralph Lauren was classical and I was... black. Black and stretch.” Her vision of American fashion revolved around ease – she made black basic. “There's no woman who is comfortable with her body. I'm going through the same chaos that they're going through, so I try to come up with solutions.”
It's no small irony that a woman who wanted to be at home with her baby ended up outfitting women for workplace equality, and beyond: a 2011 campaign depicts model Isabeli Fontana taking the presidential oath. Karan, who designed President Bill Clinton's first inauguration suit, isn't shy about her desire to see life imitate advertising. “Am I going to say I love Hillary Clinton for president? Absolutely. Chelsea is going to make an amazing president, too.”
It's worth heeding her words – Karan has long been a keen talent-
spotter; Brit Louise Wilson, the influential course director of fashion at London's Central Saint Martins, and Burberry's Christopher Bailey both found a place at her label early in their careers. And she commands incredible loyalty from her staff and alumni. Jane Chung, who Karan mentored as a student, went on to co-found DKNY with her and still leads the brand now. So she must be an incredible boss to work for? “I don't ever put anything more on somebody else than I expect from myself. I wash the floor.
Whatever it takes to do the job, I can do it. And I want to do it.”
Rare downtime finds Karan in her apartment overlooking Central Park, her Hamptons home or her island retreat on Parrot Cay, where
she used to vacation with her beloved late husband, Stephan Weiss. She has a long list of travel ambitions, starting with a trip to Israel to take in “my sister” Barbra Streisand's concert in June. “I'm dying to go to Papua New Guinea. You know The Motorcycle Diaries? I really want to be on the back of
a motorcycle to South America...” Really? Donna Karan not in the driver's seat? Who's in front?
“OK, if we put it out there it will happen,” she says, unleashing that laugh. “A long-haired, ponytailed artist. A nomad, a yogi who wants to make a difference.” Well, she does know what women want.
“There is no WOMAN who is COMFORTABLE with her body... so I try to come up with SOLUTIONS”
DONNA'S go-to pieces
"THE DRESS AND JACKET combo is summer's ultimate day-to-night look."
"YOU CAN DO anything in a jumpsuit – I even do yoga in it."
All by Donna Karancredits
Styling: Sofia Catania Art director: Jon Wetherell Makeup: Berta Camal at Jedroot. Hair: Joyce Cohen