about her job at Anne Klein, but the sheer fact of being in the presence of one of the most powerful and influential fashion designers was nerve racking. She was trying to do her best, share ideas and be perfect in every single way, but the lack of experience made her efforts seem clumsy.
Nine months later Donna sensed that her days at the company were numbered. Soon she was asked to leave. Although it wasn’t even Anne herself who made the decision, losing a dream job felt both embarrassing and frightening. It didn’t, however, make Donna stop dreaming big.
She began looking for a new job and was soon given a chance by Patty Cappalli, an owner of a sportswear company called Addenda. Here Donna wasn’t only allowed to put some of her own ideas into practice, but also got invited to accompany her boss to Europe to seek and choose fabrics for the future collections. It was the moment when Donna truly fell in love with the luxurious cashmeres and silks that “talked” and inspired. Now she knew what clothes she would like to design.
Soon after returning to New York the 22-year old married Mark Karan. Somehow being a married woman gave her an injection of confidence and enough strength to march back to the Anne Klein offices and ask for her job back. She was hired and soon promoted to the associate designer. Having being guided and inspired by Anne Klein, Karan began sketching the clothes she could see herself wearing. Soon her designs caught attention of Tomio Taki, the head of Takihyo Inc., a Japanese company that owned Anne Klein label.
On 17 March 1974 Anne Klein’s team was busy finishing the Fall’s capsule collection when Donna, who was heavily pregnant, had to be rushed to the hospital straight from work. Hours later she gave birth to Gabrielle, her beautiful baby girl named after Donna’s father, Gabby.
The new mother was still recovering in her room when the phone began to ring. Donna was needed to guide the team while Anne Klein was in hospital. Although Anne’s condition wasn’t discussed, everyone knew that she had cancer.
Karan was ready to rush back to work straight away convincing her doctor that there were “plenty of seamstresses in the office” to take care of her stitches, but was only allowed to do so after a week spent at home. And so she picked up her new born baby, came into the newly built and very empty house in Long Island and invited the entire Anne Klein’s office to move in with her to finish the collection. In her mind Donna saw this as a last step before quitting the job and becoming a full-time mother, but her destiny was about to change.
Her first collection for Anne Klein was a triumph. “The star is born” said the review that followed. Buyers loved Karan’s ideas of luxurious and elegant separates that soon appeared in fashion magazines, and the company’s sales went through the roof. “I always knew I’d be something” she later recalled in one of her interviews.
Tahikyo instantly offered Donna a 12-year contract and full control over her designs. She hired her friend, Luis Dell’Olio, to design alongside her and for the next ten years the two hardly ever stopped working expanding the brand further and introducing Anne Klein II, the less expensive, more sporty line.
In 1977 Donna received her first Coty Award, the “Oscar” of the fashion industry. Two more soon followed, in 1981 and 1984.
Whilst everything at Anne Klein was going just as Karan wanted, her marriage suffered. In 1983 Donna and Mark divorced and now it was her job that made her feel secure.
Needless to say, when Tomio Taki asked her to leave Anne Klein and start her own label, the offer didn’t appeal to her at all. The world of Anne Klein was her comfort blanket, her obsession and practically her life – letting at all go at once felt frightening.
That very same year Donna was divorced, she met and married Stephan Weiss who not only became her husband and best friend, but the one who made her dream, create and believe in herself. When Frank Mori, Anne Klein’s president made the decision to fire, she was ready for the new venture.
To be continued…
Photo source: Donna Karan and Luis Dell’Olio at Anne Klein offices Donna Karan (Wizards of Business), Donna Karan & Louis Dell'Olio designs for Anne Klein in editorials and campaigns, 1974-1984; Donna Karan for Anne Klein campaign 1980; Donna Karan & Louis Dell'Olio designs for Anne Klein in editorials and campaigns, 1980s; Donna Karan in newspapers / The Journey of a Woman: 20 Years of Donna Karan, Anne Klein campaign 1982, Donna Karan with her husband Stephan Weiss & business partners Frank Mori & Tomio Taki / photo: Fred Conrad