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.
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…