As the fashion press prepares for Haute Couture collections in Paris and the debut of New York's first organized Men's Fashion Week, one of the pillars of modern American fashion has dropped a bombshell. Donna Karan is stepping down as the chief designer of Donna Karan International, the company she founded on 1984.
She plans to maintain a close advisory role at the company, now a division of LVMH, but is expected to devote greater time to her own Urban Zen company and foundation. Karan's reduced role does not come as a total surprise to those in the industry who have observed over a period of years that the designer's interest seemed more focused on her personal projects than on the labels she created in the 1980s. What is a surprise, however is that rather than replacing her as designer for the flagship Donna Karan Collection as PVI did at Calvin Klein with Francisco Costa when its namesake designer reduced his role, DKI will suspend those collections and runway shows "for now", WWD reports. That leaves a very changed DKI, with DKNY as its main fashion driver. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow of Public School will be presenting their debut as DKNY's creative directors at New York Fashion Week this September.
While one might have expected that the Donna Karan collection would have been strong enough to continue with a new creative director, it has now been many years since Karan's original label has been the retail powerhouse that it was in the 80s and 90s when its deceptively simple designs powered by its designer's charisma and a rabidly devoted customer base racked up huge numbers for retailers. Her seasonal public appearance at Bergdorf Goodman regularly drew record-busting crowds to meet her, but it has been decades since Karan has presided over a trunk show, and collection no longer commands the prized real estate in department stores that it once did, despite more enthusiastic reviews for her runway shows in recent years along with a resurgence in her label's favorable appearance at red-carpet events and award shows.
Still, it's hard to imagine a New York fashion scene without a collection designed by Donna Karan who has been fixture since she took over the reins at Anne Klein in 1974 with Louis Dell'Olio. Look for lots of retrospectives and much deserved tributes in the days ahead.