Even though Donna Karan’s eyes were bright and clear, they were aggressively smudged with dark black eye-liner: a signature look she’s worn for years. Unfortunately, the make-up prevented me from getting a good read on her. At least, from across the room, where I was inconveniently standing.
Donna was in town to promote her shop-in-shop (pictured in the blog) at Saks Fifth Avenue in Bal Harbour. She was also presenting her 2014 Spring Collection to a handful of Miami fashionistas at the SLS Hotel on South Beach and when Odette, my Assignment Manager, told me that I was one of those people, I jumped at the chance to meet her.
The thing is, before I interview someone famous, I like to watch them interact with other people (fans, reporters, etc.,) just to get a feel of their energy and spirit, especially if i’ve never met or engaged them before. Believe me, you can learn a lot about a person by watching them when they least expect it.
One of the keys to this pre-interview trick I’ve used throughout the years is, you have to be able to see the person’s eyes. Poor eye contact means they’re uninterested or insincere; good eye contact, the opposite. So, at that point, her make-up prevented me from seeing what Donna was really thinking or feeling (and maybe that wasn’t a coincidence, after all the woman is an icon,) but I really wanted to know and not just because it’s my job.
I’ve traveled the world and talked to a lot of interesting people over the years; the rich and famous, the inspirational and unique, the talented and the lucky (the not-so-talented and really lucky,) but very few (and yes, I’m talking about actors, singers, athletes and designers here) have had the unwavering, consistent, formidable success and most importantly, staying power, as Donna.
She’s not just a fashion designer, she’s a legend, a household name and not just because famous people wear her clothes, or because some cheeky reality show about quickly sewing gorgeous garments together launched her career. Instead, Donna came into her success the old-fashioned way, with hard work and dedication.
In the 70’s, Donna started out as an intern for famed designer, Anne Klein. Her work was so impressive, she quickly rose through the ranks of the fashion house and became its head designer. By the mid 80’s, she branched out on her own and debuted her first women’s collection. Her motto was that she “Designed modern clothes, for modern people.”
Eventually, she created her own denim line, designed menswear and buried her nose into the perfume business, creating her own signature scent. By the early 90’s, she realized the importance of making her clothes more accessible and more affordable to the everyday woman. That’s when she created Donna Karan New York, more famously known as DKNY.
She would go on to solidify herself as one of the most influential designers of all time by receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2004 (one of many accolades she’s received over the years.) More importantly, she became the queen and creator of “The Softer Side of Structured Fashion,” meaning her designs are comfortable, classic, smart, neat, but at the same time, they’re also beautifully bohemian.
As I got closer to Donna, she was sitting comfortably on a low-to-the-floor, vintage buttery, beige couch, in the middle of a swarm of people. Despite the organized chaos around her, her smile was light and her demeanor easy. She was in complete control and what’s more, she seemed well adjusted and normal. Believe me, that’s a compliment in the celebrity world.
Donna sincerely engaged everyone she came in contact with. No question was too big or too small. She listened thoughtfully and answered affably to everyone around her, including myself…
Shireen Sandoval: How would you describe your 2014 Spring Collection?
Donna Karan: It’s inspired by India. There are hand-block prints made in India and there’s sort of a scarf theme. There’s nothing more important to me than a scarf. The scarves and prints were handmade at an ashram there. There are indigo and sand colors, along with a lot of long, hippie-like pieces. A lot of handcrafted leather bags and jewelry, too. Also, great big hats. I love the hat this year.
SS: How do you perceive the Miami woman and her style?
DK: I think she’s changing so much. I think she’s become much more urban. For me, Miami holds a kind of childhood dream. It’s also a place where I met my husband. It’s about the beach and partying and it’s also become a major art scene; I love that and I love the Design District.
SS: What’s the best fashion advice you’ve ever received?
DK: You have to be one with the garment. Something that I’ve learned is your scarf is your best friend. It accents your positives and it deletes your negatives and by the way, your shoulders never gain weight. It’s the only place on your body, I guarantee you, you will never get wrinkled and you will never gain weight on.
SS: How does a fashionista perfect “The Softer Side of Structured Fashion,” that you’re so famous for?
DK: Knowing your body is the most important thing. Obviously, people in Miami know their bodies. Always accent the positive. You can never have enough skinny pants, never have enough scarves. Cover up your top the way it needs to be covered up and don’t wear short dresses unless you look really good in short dresses and be comfortable in flat shoes. If your shoes hurt don’t wear them.
SS: I do that a lot. Wear uncomfortable shoes.
DK: Most people go to an event and they’re wearing these amazing shoes, but at the end of the night they’re limping out of the party with their shoes in their hands and groaning and they can’t even walk.
SS: Guilty as charged. I’m going to practice wearing flats.
Donna and I talked a little more after our “official” interview. She told me her daughter was opening a new restaurant in New York City and how she loves the sun so much, she’s afraid if she lived in Florida she’d never get anything done, because she’d always be at the beach. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. The woman has earned it, gracefully and stylishly, every step of the way and that’s why she’s one of my favorite “things.”
FB Shireen Sandoval
photography by tod p/t4twophotography
Editor: Matthew Auerbach