Earlier this summer, Donna Karan announced that she’s stepping down from her role as chief designer of Donna Karan International. With this season’s resurgence of the ’90s style that she helped to define, it’s been hard to get over the news.
Karan was one of the wizards behind the curtain who made the ’90s a great decade for fashion. A lot of the looks that were popular during that decade—clingy slip dresses, crop tops, mini skirts, and body-conscious, ribbed dresses—are difficult to pull off. But Karan’s minimalist take was made to compliment the female form. Her clothing was never showy or overly sexy. Instead, wearable is the word that best describes her designs.
But she did more than make comfortable clothing: Karan taught a certain set of women that power dressing didn’t have to mean wearing starchy, boxy suits. She empowered femininity in the process. She understood that people looked their best when they felt their best, and that they felt their best when they looked most like themselves. Stylist Lori Goldstein has said that Donna “changed the game because she brought femininity to a powerful woman.” Karan wanted her clients to look strong while feeling like themselves. To that end she made elegant pieces that could be worn anywhere from the office to errands to dinner. In 1998, long before it became socially acceptable to wear leggings as pants and running shoes became everyday footwear, Karan proved that casual sportswear could be beautiful and interesting. She then created an offshoot sportswear line, DKNY, so that more people could afford to wear her impeccable designs.
Last year Opening Ceremony collaborated with Karan on a small collection of ’90s-inspired, logo-heavy sweatshirts and tees, platform sneakers, and stretchy dresses. The line reaffirmed the importance and the coolness of her legacy—and likely contributed to this season’s obsession with that not too-distant past.
After what she described as “much soul searching,” Karan has decided to devote time to her Urban Zen company and foundation. She’s sure that DKI “has a bright future and a strong team in place.” She says she’ll continue to work with the company as an advisor, so we have that to be glad for.