A Designer for Real Women

In her memoir, fashion trailblazer Donna Karan offers a revealing glimpse into a passionate and productive life.

“Anyone can dress a beautiful girl. They look great in everything. But to dress a woman, a true peer, who wants to look fabulous, sexy, confident, and still age-appropriate, was an accomplishment,” writes Donna Karan, the immensely creative designer who has attired such iconic women as Barbra Streisand, Oprah Winfrey, Susan Sarandon, Anjelica Huston, and Diane Sawyer, as well as countless others.

In her candid memoir, My Journey (Ballantine Books), Karan writes about the birth in 1985 of her eponymous clothing line that simplified dressing for working women and showed them that being feminine and professional wasn’t mutually exclusive. But she also tells the rest of the story: Of her shaky start as an unseasoned intern who grew into the role, at age 25, of lead designer at prestigious label Anne Klein; of parents who worked in the fashion industry; of her mother’s rages and mood swings; of all the loved ones she has lost beginning with the early death of the father whom she adored; of her turbulent romantic life; and of the personal awakening that has led her, a non-practicing Jew and self-described “seeker,” to explore both kabbalah and Eastern traditions.

The book is peppered with the names of the many people with whom Karan has developed friendships. Just two illustrations: Barbra Streisand, one of her best friends, writes the memoir’s introduction, and former President Bill Clinton, one of the book’s blurbs.

One can’t help but admire Karan’s generosity: She has made it a priority to mentor young designers and has used her creativity to connect commerce and philanthropy to benefit a number of causes including AIDS, cancer research, and residents of post-earthquake Haiti. Her most recent initiative is the Urban Zen Foundation, which focuses on wellness and artisanal goods.

In the book’s final chapters, Karan writes about “letting go” of her role as lead designer at DKNY in 2015. That doesn’t mean she has stopped seeking adventure, she emphasizes: “I’ll never stop exploring, because it’s what I haven’t done that excites me most.”