Donna Karan On Her Business Icons And Favorite Designer (Um, Herself!)

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San Francisco has had quite the string of fashion icons stopping through town as of late. First, Jean Paul Gaultier, then Sarah Burton and Philip Treacy, and, as of Friday, Donna Karan swept into our fine city to fête the opening of her shop-in-shop at Saks Fifth Avenue. Of course, we were on hand to greet the style titan and quiz her about her tech know-how, business icons, and S.F. past.
You're in San Francisco! What's your history with the city?
"Well, I sort of started here in San Francisco when I began Donna Karan. We were carried at I. Magnin, which was before your time. So, San Francisco has a place in my heart. I feel a major connection to the city on many different levels: The mind, the body, the spirit, the sophistication of people who really care and make a difference in the world. Rodney Yee, who does Urban Zen with me, spends a lot of time in San Francisco."
It's also the world's tech capital. Are you a techie?
"Not at all! No way. I definitely have an iPad and an iPhone. I do a lot of my work on them and a lot of photography. I like to use them particularly when I go to Haiti. I have my whole journal on those. I think, in the world today, it's not just about dressing people, but about addressing them. And communication and tech are a big part of that."
You're an icon not just for American design, but also as a woman running a great fashion empire. Does it concern you at all that many of the emerging designers winning CFDA awards of late are mostly men?
"Well, I think what's important as a male designer is that you have a really strong female muse. I know what my strength is as a female designer, and that's knowing a female and her body. I think that's what makes Donna Karan what it is today. I see women try on the clothes, and they say, 'Oh my god, you made this for me.' They do feel that sense of understanding a woman. I design for myself, it's clearly selfish. I know what it feels like to be a woman. I know where I have to go and what I want to feel like. A lot of the collection I'm showing today is based on my husband and the idea of wo-man — a man and woman — and women running for president. It's all about strength and getting women out there in the public world."
Do you wear other designers?
"No. I'm basically in a uniform. I wear my black pants, black bodysuit, scarf, and jacket. It's really simple. I wear a lot of Urban Zen. I wear a lot of Donna Karan. I wear a lot of DKNY. When you have that many labels, shopping is pretty widespread. And there's probably nobody that makes an evening gown for me...well...better than me!"
You're known for having such a strong business sense. Do you have business icons?
"Absolutely. For me, I think President Clinton has always been my inspiration. The President and Hillary, and now seeing Chelsea developing so beautifully. Certainly, seeing what's happening in the tech world is extraordinary. And what Sean [Penn] has done down in Haiti. Also, you see Michael [Kors] going public and Ralph [Lauren's] consciousness and what he's done for the Harlem hospitals. Also, overall Ralph has a real understanding of his consumer."
What's up next for you?
"Stephan [Weiss'] book is coming out. I'm launching Stephan's art show, it's called 'Connecting the Dots.' People haven't seen his art collection and I'm really excited about it. It'll be at Urban Zen, the studio where he created all the work. We have the Apple Awards happening in New York City. I'm going to be involved with Barbra [Streisand's] women's heart-disease initiative. I'm going down to Haiti again. Seeing it progressively change is great."
Photographed by Christine Ting

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