Donna Karan was born into the fashion business—her father was a tailor, and her mother was a showroom model and Seventh Avenue saleswoman—yet Karan dreamed of becoming a dancer like Martha Graham or a singer like Barbra Streisand. Fashion was her destiny, though. My Journey traces Karan’s early days as an intern at Anne Klein, the creation of her Seven Easy Pieces (which forever changed the way working women dressed), and the meteoric rise of her company. Along with juicy industry stories, Karan candidly discusses her difficult mother and traumatic childhood, her turbulent romantic life, all the loved ones she has lost over the years, and the personal awakening that occurred just as she reached the height of professional and financial success.
That awakening set Karan down a path of spiritual discovery and self-improvement. From est to Kabbalah, from silent retreats to leech therapy, Karan tried everything to find, as she writes, “calm in the chaos.” But she also reveals how a chaotic life, fueled by endless curiosity and childlike impulses, helped her design seminal collections season after season for global powerhouse brands Donna Karan New York and DKNY. She also details how she has channeled her creativity (and her urge to solve problems and nurture others) into philanthropic work, particularly her early outspoken advocacy for AIDS awareness and research, and the creation of her Urban Zen Foundation, focusing on integrated healthcare and education as well as preservation of culture, which led to her current efforts in Haiti.
Karan’s life has been crowded with glamorous characters and adventures around the world. But she sometimes still feels like that awkward teen from Long Island who never fit in—which makes her all the more endearing. Brimming with Karan’s infectious energy, My Journey is about much more than the fashion world: It is the story of a young woman whose vision and hard work made her a role model for women everywhere—a woman who dreamed big, fought to have it all, broke the rules, and loved passionately along the way.
Praise for My Journey
“By turns moving, insightful, and hilarious, yet always, always heartfelt . . . When you’re a true force of fashion, nothing holds you back.”—Vogue
“When Donna Karan stepped down . . . it was the end of an era, so consider this autobiography her parting gift. . . . Expect a holistic view of the woman behind one of the most influential American labels.”—StyleCaster
“Donna’s creativity and passion as a committed philanthropist are matched only by her gift for friendship. Whether she’s making the world more beautiful or giving a Haitian artisan the tools to create a sustainable business, Donna has always led with great heart and wonderful humor.”—President Bill Clinton
“What we take for granted often comes from the most revolutionary of sources. In New York in the 1980s, no one was more radical than Donna Karan. She created a way of dressing that was womanly, practical, and empowering.”—Anna Wintour
“An extraordinary personal, professional, and spiritual life . . . defined by Donna’s incredible resilience, her inward search for calm in the midst of success, and her insistence on always following her heart.”—Arianna Huffington
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||9.20(w) x 6.20(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
BORN INTO FASHION
“How did you get into fashion?” People ask me that question almost every day. The answer: I was born into it. Not only did my father, Gabby Faske, make custom suits, but my mother, Helen Faske—known as “Richie” at work—was a model who later turned to showroom sales. Even the man she went on to marry after my father died, Harold Flaxman, my stepfather, was in the business, though he was on the cheap side of the street, selling knockoffs and schmattas.
Fashion was all around me, obnoxiously so. When I was old enough to take the train into the city, I hung out in the back offices of Richie’s showrooms. I put on my first fashion show when I was in high school. My first job was selling clothes in a boutique, and I was great at it. I had tons of insecurities, but never about clothes. When it came to clothes, I knew what I was doing.
Designing is second nature to me. It is who I am. I can’t help it. I see a problem—a desire to look longer, leaner, and leggier—and I have to solve it. A void? Have to fill it. And fabric, well, it talks to me. I drape it on the body, and it tells me what to do. It’s a dialogue without words. I become a sculptor, shaping and coaxing it where it wants to go, accentuating the positive and deleting the negative. You can’t teach that kind of design to someone. Like any artistic expression, you have to feel it. It’s in your blood, and it was definitely in mine.
I don’t have many memories of my father, but I have this one: I had just turned three years old, and we were at his menswear showroom on 40th and Broadway, on the second floor, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Because I was so small, they propped me up on the radiator box by the window so I could see better. I was enjoying the parade when all of a sudden a group appeared in the lineup dressed like stereotypical American Indians: huge feather headdresses, war-painted faces, jumping around, whooping, the works. To a toddler, they looked like a parade of boogeymen, all coming to get me. I was spooked, really scared. I jumped down and ran into a rack of men’s suits for safety. My father’s suits.
Little did that three-year-old know she was going to design menswear herself one day, and even dress a president of the United “States. I became a tailor, just like my father. He was an amazing one. I like to think he passed that baton, that talent, that gene on to me, because that’s where I feel the most connected to him. The photos of my parents and the clothes he made for the two of them—well, the sophistication just kills me. How to capture that, how to create that, how to become that? On some level, those challenges fuel my creative passions.
Photos of my parents tell their story better than words ever could. They’re dancing, laughing, and smiling, with hints of the city behind them. My mother looks like a young Ava Gardner; my father is utterly debonair. They lived the high life. My father’s tailoring business attracted all sorts of famous people, including celebrities and gangsters—he even dressed New York City mayor Vincent Impellitteri. Everyone told me how charming my father was.
In fact, his whole family was. The Faskes had social status and were always entertaining or out on the town. My father, Gabby, had six siblings: two sisters, Miriam and Leah, and four brothers, Sol, Heshy, Abe, and Frank. Frank was the brother to whom he was closest. Uncle Frank led a glamorous life back then; he owned a Pontiac dealership, and Pontiacs were very chic cars at the time. Montrose Motors was in Brooklyn, where he lived. Once Uncle Frank called my father, all excited. The comedian Red Buttons had just traded in his old car for a new one, and Uncle Frank knew Gabby would love the old one: a 1951 yellow Pontiac convertible. My father went over right away, and that became our family car.
“Gabby and Uncle Frank loved going to clubs, whether in New York, in the Catskills, or on Long Island. They were friendly with the owners of the Concord Hotel in the Catskills and made all kinds of show biz connections through them. In addition to owning Montrose Motors, Uncle Frank managed a handful of celebrities, including the comedian Buddy Hackett. He and my aunt Dotty, who had four kids, threw parties at their home in Manhattan Beach with lots of singing and dancing. Stars like Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh would occasionally show up. In the summers, our families would drive to Atlantic Beach on Long Island—an area we eventually moved to—and go to the Capri resort, where we shared a cabana. I was a just a baby, but I remember the festivity, the buzz.
Then on May 1, 1952, the party ended. My father was on his way home from work; his friend Morris was giving him a lift in his green Cadillac convertible. They were on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and the car must have swerved. The passenger side was hit. Morris survived, but my father died in the hospital the next day of brain injuries. He was fifty-two years old.
When death happens suddenly, like it did with my father, everything changes dramatically: How your mother behaves. How you are cared for. How your family functions. How you define your family. How you define yourself. And, in those days especially, you were changed financially, because the main breadwinner was gone. You go from being a normal child to one who knows about death, loss, and uncertainty. The impact of losing a parent at such a young age is impossible to grasp unless you’ve experienced it yourself.
Years later, when I was in my late teens, my then boyfriend, Mark Karan, was opening a men’s clothing store in Cedarhurst, Long Island. It was called Picadilly, named after the street it was on. Mark’s father was helping us out. He’d just returned from picking up an order of clothes in Brooklyn that hadn’t been delivered on time. As he was unpacking, he suddenly stopped.
“Donna, what was your father’s name again?”
I turned, and he was holding a suit on an old wooden hanger embossed with the words Gabby Faske Clothier. Stunned, I reached for it, wanting to make sure it was real. What are the odds that after so many years, so many suits, so many stores, so many miles, a Gabby Faske hanger would end up in Mark’s store on Long Island?
I look at this hanger framed on my wall, and know my father has been by my side, holding me up, throughout my journey.
Fashion was my destiny. Which isn’t the same thing as my life’s dream. Fashion was actually the last thing I wanted to do. It was too obvious, too predictable, too easy. Like most kids, I wanted to be different from my parents. My fantasy was to dance like Martha Graham or Isadora Duncan and later as a teenager, I wanted to sing like Barbra Streisand. Growing up, I would dance in my room till all hours. Not in front of the mirror—I danced for how it felt, not how it looked. I loved every kind of musical and all the jukebox hits of the 1950s. I signed up for every show in camp and at school. My mother adored my voice and was always asking me to sing. Not that I had a huge talent or anything, but I projected as though I did.
But my main dream was to be a stay-at-home mother—the opposite of mine. She had to work, because we needed the money, but it was also where she came alive. She lived and breathed Seventh Avenue; it was in her soul. When I was a kid, most mothers didn’t have outside jobs. My friends’ moms got them ready for school in the morning, made hot chocolate when they came home, and cooked dinner every night. My childhood home was nothing like that. I grew up in Kew Gardens, Queens. We lived in a red-brick apartment building—a nice building for Queens. Our apartment wasn’t small; it had seven rooms: the living and dining rooms, the kitchen, a small den, my mother’s room, which had an attached dressing room, and a bedroom that I shared with my older sister, Gail, and the nanny of the moment. We even had a small terrace. (Young as I was, I remember sitting on that terrace as my father’s funeral procession went by.)
I could fill a book with stories of my mother. There are so many ways and words to describe her: beautiful, grand, polished, stylish. But also crazy, dramatic, temperamental, difficult, and—knowing what I know now—bipolar. As I said, they called her “Richie” at work, but her lifelong personal nickname was “Queenie,” which kind of says it all. It’s hard to know where to begin with her, so I’ll start when I was very young. She was distant, depressed, and not there in the ways that mattered—she wasn’t there to welcome me home from school and took little interest in my education. My favorite thing to do is climb into my bed with my grandchildren and read to them, but she never did anything like that. My mother worked long days, made even longer by her train commute. When she came home, she was exhausted.
Shortly after Gabby died, she packed me and Gail off to Camp Alpine in Parksville, New York, in the Catskills. That’s where New York Jewish kids went. I was only three and a half, even younger than the minimum age of four years. I stayed in Bunk Zero, where a woman we called Mother Sue watched over us like a hawk. (At one point, there were ten of us cousins there at the same time.) I remember feeling terrified, looking for any sign of my mother all day long, hoping she would appear and take me home. She didn’t.