THE SEVENTH wonder
Designer Donna Karan tells Bazaar the tale behind her summer collection and her affinity for India. By Carol Singh
In the late ‘80s, one woman decided to put an end to a lady’s constant closet conundrum by offering her multi-purpose clothing options that were comfortable yet commanding. Donna Karan, who set up her signature line in 1985, debuted with a collection called ‘Seven Easy Pieces’, which included lilting leotards, a coat, a jacket, a blouse, a skirt, and something slightly special for the evening. Well, nothing much has changed since; Karan is still serving up fabulous wardrobe fillers for every urban woman out there, including the neo-indian town girl.
“My style is very much about draping the body, I love the traditional sari way of dressing, concealing, and revealing, accentuating the positive and deleting the negative,” says Karan of her connect with the Indian customer. Perhaps it is this penchant for the drape that has turned so many local women into her loyalists. Karan believes that there is as much correlation as there is a contrast amongst the urban American woman and her Indian counterpart. “The more I travel, the more I appreciate our similarities and our differences. India is such a sophisticated country, and the women are so beautiful. We share the desire for vibrant colour, fine textiles, embroidery, and adornment,” says the designer whose adoration for India was born out of her love for yoga and spirituality.
Karan has been involved in various charity projects since the start of her career, which has made her travel to places far and wide. Her latest collection for Donna Karan New York, is in fact inspired by Haiti (a part of the Caribbean Islands), where she is working towards developing the country’s craft trade. For her line this summer, her two worlds meshed together—“the mod- ern sophistication of New York and the raw vibrancy of Haiti,” as she puts it. The collection’s bold, tribal accessories are handcrafted by Haitian artisans and the various ethnic patterns were adopted from the work of native artist, Philippe Dodard. For her DKNY line, her reference point stays true to its young city girl core, drawing inspiration from modern American art and culture.
Even with such precise referencing, her pieces are easily adapted. Karan reiterates, “This is an individual who is creative and styles the clothes in her own fashion.” It is this easy and instinctive approach that has made Karan such an universal favourite; her designs are always modern in any context. Karan’s greatest strength is to be able to illicit a simple narrative even with all things otherwise complicated, such as the LBD. And if you look at the new-age, most-noticed brigade of women designers, the most successful (read Phoebe Philo for Céline and Stella Mccartney) are those who have been able to address the fuss-free, snobbery-proof needs of women without trying to shackle them with absurd grandeur.
Even for the sultry Indian summer, Karan has all the answers. “We have evolved the Cozy this time into a sleeveless, printed silk scarf. The principle is the same—you can wrap, tie, or belt it into a dress or wear it over a skirt or leggings; it’s the perfect summer piece,” she says. The Cozy is already a beloved item of most Indian women since DKNY entered the Indian market in the summer of 2009. However, the brand’s signature line, Donna Karan New York is not yet as readily available to the local customer. Karan says of her plans for India, “We very much want to sell in India and are exploring ways to do that, whether through one of your stores or opening one of our own.” Well, seems like it might not be too long before we can steadily stroll into one of Donna Karan’s stores and invest in her ubiquitous drapes and easy essentials.
Karan leaves us with her best buy for the season, “DKNY’S long, strapless or tank dresses come in silk and cotton jersey versions that float on the body as you walk—k these feel like nothing against your skin.” And that’s the allure she wields—celebrating the female form in all its ease has never been a formidable feat for Karan.