Donna Karan: the Seventh Avenue baby


Donna Karan biography | early years | via Fashioned by Love
When a new born cries louder than all the other bundles of joy  he shares the room with, some say the baby is going to be a singer. If it’s true, then little Donna Ivy Faske born on 2 October 1948 in Forest Hills, New York, given an ability to speak, would most likely ask for a cashmere blanket to be wrapped in and a string of hand carved onyx beads for a bit of Zen-like entertainment in style.

When Donna was little, her parents often called her the Seventh Avenue baby reflecting the fact that their little daughter certainly inherited the fashion gene. Donna’s mother, Helen Richie, worked as a model and her father, Gabby, was a tailor. 

Fashion was Donna’s element from the very beginning. While other 3-year olds were playing with their dolls, the girl spent hours watching her mother and other models showing the real clothes in a beautiful showroom and mimicked her fathers discussions of hemlines and pleats. Many years later, Donna Karan will admit that many of her own designs were influenced by her childhood memories and beautiful clothes worn by her glamorous mother.

The tragedy struck when Donna was only 3 years old. Her beloved father died in a car accident and the happy and beautiful world the little girl lived in began to change. Helen now worked long hours to support the family and Donna had to learn to be independent.

Then, when Donna was ten, her mother remarried. Donna and her stepfather, Harold Flaxman who run a company selling copies of the designer dresses, hit it off straight away. Harold understood Donna’s love for beautiful clothes. It was him who encouraged the the fashion-hungry teen to continue sketching and consider becoming a designer.

Donna Karan biography | early years | via Fashioned by Love
When she turned fourteen Donna decided to make her first step into the industry. She went to Shurrie’s, one of the boutiques in the neighbourhood, lied about her age and got hired as a sales assistant. Whilst her school grades were getting worse, Donna’s love for fashion and styling became stronger and more obvious to others.

In 1966 Helen decided that supporting her daughters ideas rather than focusing on her marks was the best strategy. She approached her boss who had connections in Parson’s and asked him to help Donna get in.

She was accepted straight away, although on probation. Both Helen and Parsons tutors had their reservations, but surprisingly, the girl blossomed into a model student overnight. She never skipped classes, her grades was excellent and within two years her talent was noticed by several major fashion designers including Anne Klein who offered the girl a summer internship.

A few months later, as the job turned into a permanent position, Donna dropped out of Parson’s and went off to live her dream.
To be continued…

Photo source: Donna Karan via Business of Fashion, Donna Karan in 1966, Donna Karan during fittings at Parsons, Donna Karan sketches, photos of Forest Hill via wikipedia


  1. Such an inspiring and beautiful real life story =)

  2. Thanks! x

    Interesting update :)!
    bisous x

  3. Talking about following your dream...

  4. Great article, Natalia! Looking forward for reading more!!

  5. Hi dear, I enjoyed reading about Donna's history. Its amazing how the people who grow you up and your surroundings can strongly influence a future career path. I would have wondered if her parents and step dad were not in the fashion business, would she still have pursued that career?

  6. Hi Natalia! She got a natural talent! I didnt know the mother was a model, fashion flows in her veins from when she was a child, thats why she is so great! Looking forward to read the rest! Kisses dear! xo

  7. I so enjoyed reading that. Her story is so interesting and inspiring.

    I'm looking forward to reading more.

  8. I really enjoy learning more about the the early lives of great fashion designers. Donna Karan def. sounds like she was destined for fashion.

    Rowena @ rolala loves

  9. Really interesting, dear Natalia, and her story confirms me that the childhood imprints (I hope this is the correct English word) every person enormous. The fact that her father died when she was three is interesting for me, too, because in my opinion a lot of successful people had a hard childhood or lost one or both parents - this fact seems to make them really strong and hard working ...

    I´m looking forward for the continuance with great interest - many thanks for this great story again!

    xx from Bavaria, Rena

  10. I am always excited when you start a biography week of a designer. Looking forward to more on Donna.

    Have a lovely long weekend.

    Red x

  11. Oh WOW! She did well, because she was doing something she LOVED. That is so important in life! I didn't know her background, so thank you Natalia. So sad about her real dad, but how wonderful about her supporting step-father and great mom. I've always admired Donna Karan.

  12. Love this post on Donna K. I always love reading about how designers get into their careers.

    xo Mary Jo

  13. I think the big thing here is really showing that kids can do a lot better if they are interested in what they are studying. Super interesting though - she's so successful now!