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Donna Karan on the Current Fashion System: "We're Killing Our Own Industry"

Donna Karan on the Current Fashion System: "We're Killing Our Own Industry"

>> Last night, in honor of two new graduate degrees at Parsons which she helped initiate, Donna Karan sat down with FIT's Valerie Steele for a little chat before a sold-out audience in the school's auditorium. Karan, who has also been a major proponent of updating the fashion schedule, explained how she proposes the changes be made:

It's very simple, we just stop. It is not nuclear science, it's really simple.  We deliver Fall clothes in August like back-to-school, we change the calendar, we go to stores and say, 'Okay, no more getting Fall clothes in July or June so they're on sale in September when the weather hasn't changed. We have to go into a system where we're talking in-season. It's the way we eat, it's the way we dress, it's the way we think. We've conditioned the consumer to buy on sale — I don't want to buy it full price because I can buy it on sale . . . We've turned our business into the white sale business.

"We have to learn restriction »

She not only wants to change the clothing delivery schedule, but also the fashion show schedule.

"When I launched my company, the shows were in April and May, now they're in February. So my question to this industry, and I say it to myself for my own company: Why am I showing clothes in February? I don't want the consumer to see next week [at New York Fashion Week] what is going to be in stores in Fall, because it's confusing. In the movie industry, the consumer doesn't know about the movies until they're ready to come out. Why do we give the consumer so much information about fashion six or seven months beforehand? It makes no sense to me."

And she wants the fashion shows to be industry-only.

"We need fashion shows, but that's industry, it's not for the general public. All the communication has to stop. It doesn't go out on the wire, it doesn't go out on the Internet, it doesn't get out for the manufacturers to copy the designs. I mean, we're killing our own industry . . . There's too much information going out there. We have to learn the word restriction."

On first starting out:

"I will always remember being told, 'Oh, you'll never be a fashion designer.' Before being a designer I actually wanted to be a fashion illustrator. I went to Women's Wear Daily for a job, and they said, 'Oh, I don't think you should take up fashion illustration.' So there I was, not knowing what to do, I just felt unwanted."

On her education:

"I almost didn't graduate high school."

And at Parsons (which she dropped out of to work at Anne Klein after two years):

"I failed draping and had to go to summer school."

On her design philosophy:

"I think when I'm designing I hope that I'm creating pieces that have longevity. Maybe the shoulders get a little bit bigger or smaller, the hemlines go up and down, but it's classic.  It's like a man's wardrobe [in practicality], but the sensuality and power of a woman."

On the future of fashion:

"I think there's been a shift in a fashion designer's approach to fashion. The old system is 'Let's create a dress, let's put it down the runway, that's the end of it.'  I think it's far more complicated right now . . .I think we're on the cusp of something major.  I really think conscious consumerism is where it's at . . . There are so many more messages out there than just, 'This is the hot new item of the season.' There has to be consciousness within the clothing . . . and something that people want to wear, something that makes them feel good, feel good on the outside and feel good on the inside."

On going green:

"It's hard to talk about black and work that way organically, so it's a learning curve."

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