A Conversation with Donna Karan

Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, sat down last evening with Donna Karan for a discussion about fashion, fabric, culture, Haiti, philanthropy, Urban Zen and the new fashion graduate programs at Parsons. The conversation took place at The New School’s Tishman Auditorium. This fall, Parsons is launching two graduate fashion programs — a first in the school’s history.

Alumna Donna Karan inspired the MFA in Fashion Design and Society, an advanced degree for emerging designers who are poised to become the next generation of industry leaders. Karan’s career has embraced a broad view of fashion and helped define a new chapter in American fashion design. The program is led by Shelley Fox, the Donna Karan Professor of Fashion at Parsons. Fox is an award winning designer whose work has been exhibited in the U.S. and internationally. Scholarships for the program have been established through a generous gift from designer and CFDA President, Diane von Furstenberg.

The second program is an MA in Fashion Studies. The theory-based program explores and analyzes fashion in its complex manifestations as object, image, cultural practice and concept. The curriculum is geared for students with degrees in humanities and social sciences as well as those with art, design and fashion industry backgrounds.

Karan, who looked fabulous in black pants, boots, wrap/scarf and her favorite beads from Senegal, appeared relaxed as she talked to Valerie and later answered questions from the audience. “My inspiration comes from dressing from the inside, not the outside,” Karan said. This was a topic that Karan brought up several times and she stressed the importance of staying centered and establishing a balance between work, family and other responsibilities.

Philanthropy plays a big role in Karan’s life. She is passionate about giving back to society, lending a helping hand and embracing other cultures. Karan founded the Urban Zen Foundation which is dedicated to combining eastern philosophy with western medicine. The foundation creates, connects and collaborates to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of well-being, preserving cultures and empowering children. “When the disaster in Haiti happened, it hit me like a hammer on the head,” Karan said. “I had a collection due, but I had to go help out.” To make a donation, visit www.urbanzenfoundation.org or bring non-perishables, clothing, shoes etc. to the Urban Zen Center at the Stephen Weiss Studio at 711 Greenwich Street, NYC.

Karan believes that conscious consumerism is the future of fashion and when an audience member asked her opinion on the bleak job situation in the industry, Karan seemed optimistic. “Today, it’s not enough to be talented. In order to succeed, you need to have a singular creative vision as well as a strong understanding of social, technological and cultural issues that influence fashion.” She also added, “Ego is the one thing that might be obliterated. Fashion may become more of a collaborative effort.”

The entire conversation between Steele and Karan will be available in the next few days on YouTube. For more information on the new graduate programs at Parsons, visit www.newschool.edu/thinkparsons .

-Stacy Lomman



Ernest Schmatolla is publisher of Lookonline since 1994. It is the longest running fashion site on the Internet.

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