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Designer Donna Karan Steps Down To Focus On Philanthropy


American fashion is headlined by three big names with three very different styles.

ROBIN GIVHAN: There's sort of the all-American preppiness of Ralph Lauren. There is the streamlined, sportswear, youth focus of Calvin Klein, and then there was Donna Karan.

MONTAGNE: That's Robin Givhan, fashion writer at The Washington Post. She says that last designer, Donna Karan, has been a beacon for women in an industry that Givhan says doesn't always serve them well.


Now, Karan has announced she's stepping away from her labels, Donna Karan New York and DKNY. While the DKNY brand will continue, the flagship label will be suspended. Givhan says that's likely to disappoint women who've relied on the designer.

GIVHAN: Donna Karan really came on the fashion scene with this very interesting and very pragmatic proposal of seven easy pieces. It was a system for getting dressed that was aimed at professional women. And what made it unique was that it was efficient, it was tailored, but it was also sensual. It did not require a woman to leave her femininity and her sexuality at the door before she entered the workplace. And it was an unusual sensibility for the time, and it is one, in fact, that has informed designers even now.

WERTHEIMER: Well, so for somebody who doesn't follow fashion closely, what might I see on the street or, as you say, in the office that is specifically DKNY style?

GIVHAN: Well, I think every time you see a woman wearing a dress that is constructed out of, you know, sensual jersey, that is a Donna Karan hallmark. The fact that she was a product of New York - she grew up on Long Island - and she really reflected an urban sensibility. And so she used a color palette that was dominated by black and gold and deep shades of brown or navy. And her tailoring was sharp, and it was professional, but it was never boxy. And finally, she was not this little pixie of a designer. I mean, she was a woman who sort of famously would talk about her size 12 hips. And she talked about them not as something that needed to be fixed but something that fashion should flatter. She believed that was the job of fashion.

WERTHEIMER: Now you have reported that no one will succeed Donna Karan in her company. Is that normal? I mean, we see all of these French fashion designers floating in and out of one house or another.

GIVHAN: Yeah, it is unusual. I mean, the secondary line, the DKNY, which was less expensive, will continue. But it is unusual that the flagship collection, the Donna Karan signature collection, after delivering the fall and resort collections to stores, is going to be suspended. And there is no successor in the wings. And I think that suggests that, you know, it was not particularly profitable. But I think it also, you know, is a sad statement that one of the few brands founded by a woman, designed by a woman, so very much in the corner of women everywhere, you know, is not going to have a successor and is not going to continue at least in the near future.

WERTHEIMER: Robin Givhan is a staff writer and fashion critic for The Washington Post. Thank you very much for joining us.

GIVHAN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.