Monday, February 11, 2008

Working Girl

Donna Karan

Donna Karan

Donna Karan (American, b. 1948). Jumpsuit, spring/summer 1986. Black cotton jersey. Gift of Peter R. Feuchtwanger, 2000 (2000.369.3).

When Donna Karan established her own design house in 1985, she continued an emphasis on sportswear dressing that had characterized the traditions of Anne Klein, the design house where she had established her career. Her first innovation, the “Essentials” line, was a set of seven wardrobe components based on a bodysuit that could be layered and coordinated in various ways. At a time when women in the professional workforce were seeking an alternative to designs based on tailored menswear, Karan’s luxurious yet pragmatic solution struck a chord. Her designs in black and charcoal gray suggested the sophisticated urbanity of the professional woman, while the body-conscious base components conveyed an alluring femininity. The jumpsuit, originally designed as functional, protective apparel, is at once a statement of a no-nonsense prioritization of efficiency as well as an acknowledgment, in its sleek, attenuating line, of the universal interest in projecting a dynamic and flattering figure.

It has the sophistication of a dress and the simplicity of pants all wrapped into one. To me, it’s a look that delivers strength, comfort, and confidence.

—Donna Karan

Comments (42)

  1. Laurie Aron Says:

    Girls can do boys’ jobs and be sexy at the same time. Uniform of a different vision.

  2. Krista Beth Says:

    Well, the draping certainly is beautiful but, yawn! Donna Karan has been making the same thing since 1985. I find her work unflattering, uninspiring and boring. The only thing she has to offer, perhaps, are basic, quality pieces. But I’m not sure that deserves a place among fashion icons.

  3. Justin Says:

    I completely disagree Krista Beth.

    While she’s not the revolutionary she was back in the power dressing 80’s heyday, she has continued in a tradition of creating feminine clothes that never become a cliche of femininity. Her construction and draping techniques are fascinating, certainly on par with her European contemporaries from a technical standpoint. To pick up one of her pieces and examine the inner workings of it is amazing. I may be biased though as draping is where I concentrate most of my efforts in designing.

    I think another admirable quality is that she has never catered to youth. Her designs are always with grown women in mind, which has become increasingly more refreshing during the quest by most New York designers to infantilize not only the female form, but the female herself.

  4. marina urbach Says:

    It is tempting to compare this piece of 1986 to Kawakubo’s black wool jersey dress of 1983 and notice the dates, in order to make a few points.
    ‘I find her work unflattering, uninspiring and boring. The only thing she has to offer, perhaps, are basic, quality pieces. But I’m not sure that deserves a place among fashion icons.’
    A bit unfair, perhaps?
    I apologize for bringing up, one more time, my wardrobe, but it is done always in order to make a point: I have a navy blue cotton jumpsuit designed by Kabakubo.
    I do not remember the date, but I know it is from the 80’s, because my son was very young. In many ways it is the opposite of this Karan jumpsuit. It has no waist whatsoever. When it is hanging in the closet, it looks like a huge square with asymmetrical details.
    ‘The only thing she has to offer, perhaps, are basic, quality pieces’
    This in itself is not a small accomplishment! Basic, quality pieces, that can be layered with more ‘outrageous’ stuff.
    The choices are more a question of personality and sensibility.
    My job at a museum allowed me to wear certain garments, that looked ok in that context, where I had daily contact with the public. For my previous job at the United Nations, perhaps I would not have been able to wear, Kawakubo, Miyake or Yamamoto, but Karan: definitely.

  5. marina urbach Says:

    ‘But I’m not sure that deserves a place among fashion icons.’

    I think it is the other way around: ‘fashion icons’ are not created by museums, critics, fashion magazines. They are created by the public, the consumer. An ‘icon’ is not necessarily positive.

  6. Krista Beth Says:

    I agree that draping is a difficult task which should not be taken lightly. This is for sure. But however admirable her draping might be, her silhouettes and color palettes leave a lot to be desired. Just look at her Fall 2008 collection that was just shown in New York. It is dowdy and drab. While I respect quality work, it does not make up for uninspired designs. Her boring skirts will be forgotten next season.

  7. marina urbach Says:

    ‘Her designs are always with grown women in mind’

    This is an excellent, important point.

  8. Krista Beth Says:

    Marina, I do tend to be a harsh critic. If you think I’m hard on Donna Karan, you should see how I am on myself! I thoroughly appreciate that she makes quality pieces for working women, however, does it belong in a museum?

  9. Krista Beth Says:

    That is a good point about icons. They are not necessarily positive. But if all it takes is making a boring, quality garment, then anybody could just put their stuff in a museum or be an icon. Heck, I could put lots of stuff in museums! Is she only significant because she has made a name for herself? It isn’t because she is innovative.

  10. marina urbach Says:

    Indeed some times people who ” make a name for themselves” deserve it less than others who do not have the same luck, shrewdness, self assuredness, drive and help from a support system. Often success has not much to do with talent.
    On the other hand, we all, all, all are going to end up six feet under no matter what.

  11. Krista Beth Says:

    This is true, Marina. Schopenhauer says that “after your death you will be what you were before your birth”. We all come from humble beginnings.

    And while I find Donna Karan unbearably boring, the world would also be boring if everybody wore Galliano. One must mix it up a bit.

  12. Laurie Aron Says:

    Donna Karan is in business to make attractive clothes that women will buy. She exists on that not so simple, really, level. Some collections are better than others. Sometimes she makes really creative things. But she doesn’t exist on a further level of artistic art for art’s sake design experimentation, and thus can’t be compared adequately to many other designers represented in this exhibit, or in the Costume Institute generally. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve a place in fashion history for clothing women for work, for respecting the female body, for making sexy yet respectable clothes. Maybe she’s the Claire McCardell of our generation.

  13. Jeremy Lewis Says:

    Karan make luxury garments not just for women, but the professional, high salaried, independent woman, a woman that only until the 80’s had existed in enough numbers to warrant focus on their lifestyle. High fashion historically is a culture that is purveyed by husbands and not the women who wear the clothes. The husbands make the money, they allowance it out to their wives, and in some cases they choose the clothes, it’s male-oriented and even a bit patriarchal. Donna went against this attitude and made clothes women actually found comfortable, that exuded power, and that maintained a distinct desirability in a world still ran by men but with new progressive paradigms in feminine attraction and identity. As far as I know she was the first designer to work this way.

  14. Maria Says:

    I think Donna Karen did an amazing job on this piece. It is very chic and stylish. She took the business uniform to a whole different level. I believe this to be very very sexy!

  15. Krista Beth Says:

    Sexy is for strip clubs, not offices.

  16. Laurie Aron Says:

    Jeremy, I agree completely with your point that Karan went for the newly created market in high-salaried working women, but I hardly think she was a first in recognizing the need for clothing “that women found comfortable and exuded power with new progressive paradigms,” to collapse your quote a bit. Anne Klein herself was no slouch. And think of anything Katherine Hepburn ever wore! This idea of redefining the woman as independent with a new paradigm goes back at least to Chanel, although her clients probably didn’t go to work.

    Certainly the early 80s of working women’s corporate clothing, with its floppy bow ties, screamed the need for a new paradigm, but I think lovely suits had been manufactured for years, just not worn to work. It was a peculiar moment of scrabbling for an image when a perfectly suitable, so to speak, one already existed. I think women felt they had to be as drab as men at their first serious attempt at the glass ceiling.

    In 1985, I worked in retail as an assistant buyer, so couldn’t afford Donna Karan, and couldn’t wear a corporate uniform, but found off-price Tahari and early Liz Claiborne, when she was more bridge than better to be quite stylish if not as dramatic. On a historic note, every women, from the lowliest assistant to the highest executive, who worked there then wore black patent flats with grosgrain bows. I don’t know if anybody else in the world did, but we did.

  17. Laurie Aron Says:

    P.S. There was Lord & Taylor before its purchase by the May Company. It was the All-American Rose department store, loyal to its revolutionary female president of the 1940s & 50s, I think, Dorothy Shaver. I wonder what she wore to work?

  18. Justin Says:

    Strip club? Why, because it has a deep v-neck?

    I guess my idea of strip club attire is very different.

    But it doesn’t seem like this garment was destined for the office. Worn as it is this is just a different take on a classic Le Smoking suit intended for evening. I could be wrong though, and knowing Karan’s early adoption of layering bodysuits under everything, this very well could have been intended as an outer layer.

    I don’t know, maybe I just find the strip club remark negative for the sake of being negative.

  19. Shana Marie Says:

    This says sophistication even on a hanger. I would love to wear this suit in any color. The silhouette is sexy and casual at the same time. It looks very comfortable. You can wear to work if you have a shirt underneath that V Neck lol and without a shirt underneath to the club ;)

  20. Krista Beth Says:

    Justin, not this garment necessarily, just “very very sexy.” Of course, with something under it, this would be fine for work. And I do like the idea of this garment as an updated Le Smoking suit. I definitely see it. To use Marina’s example, she said she wore Donna Karan to the United Nations. I don’t believe that Maria’s description of “very very sexy” would be appropriate for work attire in a professional atmosphere and could very well hold a woman back if that is how the garment is percieved.

  21. Joni-van Isaacs Says:

    I think this elegant, yet casual piece is a true work of art. The deep V-neck and the sexy details are the assests that brings out the best in this stunning suit. Throw on a shirt under it and head out to work, or throw on a sexy purse and some matching shoes and head out to a party.

  22. Mercedes Batista Says:

    I was so delighted to find out that Donna Karan had the same idea I had in the late seventies. My jumpsuit is made of black wool jersey and the tie belt wraps around the waist many times, which is not practical when one has to go to the bathroom. it was also very warm to wear inside. Great looking though. I recently gave it to a friend.

  23. Malika Brown Says:

    I personally love plunging necklines..(i know the necklines is not that dramatic) but the detail on the jumpsuit makes it look great for such a simple piece.

  24. Jeremy Lewis Says:

    Absolutely Donna wasn’t the first to design differently for women, there’s Chanel and Claire McCardell both of whom you mentioned. But there’s a quality that I find distinct about Karan and the clothes she designs. Part of it is that I believe there was a genuinely different woman that emerged in the 80’s and that this was the kind of woman who wouldn’t be caught dead in Chanel or Anne Klein. For me, Karan provided the perfect medium between the hyper sexual/agressive but sophisticated looks from Alaia, Mugler, and Montana, and softened with a very American and sporty vibe (in the tradition of Anne Klein). The idea of a woman holding the same power as a man but retaining her feminine wiles, enhancing them even, to me the only designer addressing this idea was Armani.

    It really does go back to the suit. Many designers have made wonderful suits for women over the past decades but with rare exceptions they were all skirt suits. A pant suit for women was a pretty radical thing in the late 70’s, books like Dress for Success frowned upon it, no matter a plunging V neckline, just the pants alone would have caused a stir. There is a suggestion of power and authority pants give, knowing that this is important for a professional woman, but also knowing that a woman enjoys being sensual and seductive, this is what Karan caught on to. That’s the change in paradigms that I don’t think existed before, at least not to where designers could make a viable business catering towards this type.

  25. Jack Says:

    All I can say is, very interesting. Being a boy, I don’t really understand fasion, but these outfits really are pretty interesting. Some are nice, some are pretty, and some are simply creepy. Some of those I can see my sister wearing, but eather way, the outfits are quite interesting.

  26. Casey Lemme Says:

    This piece is beautiful to me. It is very simple, which isn’t the case with most designers these days. They try to make something more outgoing than the other designer, thus making some terrifying collections. This certain article is tamed down and crosses the line between business and being sexy. The plunging neckline is semi-revealing, which is ‘ok’ in today’s society. I think she did a lovely job on this design.

  27. Catherine Wong Says:

    Donna Karen undoubtedly has an eye for chic and modern elements. I thought this piece is a good transition piece from the garrish and aggressive quintessiential 1980’s fashion to the 1990’s, where design elements become more subtle and the colors lean more toward neutrals and darks.

  28. Raeana Roberson Says:

    This piece is like an evolution of the signature black dress that Coco Chanel made popular in the early 20th century. The garment is very sleek and column like, the silhouette is reminiscent of the 1920’s, ironicaly a time when dramatic changes occured in womens social behavior. Women were appearing in the workplace and dark colors were popular, wearablility and functionality were important elements in fashion, as in the early 1990’s when this dress was designed. Donna karen revived the look using draping techniques that are very feminine and fashioning a draped pant. The look successfully offers the menswear concept of pants and an alternative to the hard edged tailored look with shoulder pads popular in the 1980’s. This silhouette, if styled well, could easily be accepted in current fashion because it is timeless and flattering on most figures.

  29. sarah Says:

    all the dress are really old some of which I would wear thers not so much but there all really really cool

  30. Crystal & Steve Sellers Says:

    We love the simplicity of the design; very flattering; who has time for all the complexities of current fashion; with this, you add a necklace and shoes and you look great and feel great; this is fashion for life !!!!

  31. Ian Says:

    Elegant. Refined. It’s Donna Karan. What more can be said?!

  32. Lulu Says:

    The suit itself seems boring but the waist I love!!!!!!

  33. me Says:

    from this angle, i can’t tell if this is a dress or a worksuit…
    My gran wearz stuff like this.
    I like the color, but i’ve seen stuff like this many, many times before.
    No offence! :-)

  34. brandi Says:

    jumpsuits never went out…infact they are still in…

  35. Carly Says:

    This dress is stunning. I wish all working mothers had a dress like this.

  36. meimi1995529 Says:

    i think this one is really nice. :) :)

  37. hgjaaaaaaaa Says:

    I love how silky it looks, must be very comforting

  38. clare mcdermott Says:

    I think whilst the piece is not revolutionary, it changed the average womans working wardrobe and the whole office culture. how many places (in the uk anyway) are you expected noe to wear a suit?

  39. pianogurl Says:

    i like it it is cool

  40. Sam Says:

    This looks cool but i think it would work better in gray.

  41. Kaity Tsui Says:

    Tres chic!

  42. Brittnay Wellmaker Says:

    I believe this jumpsuit by Donna Karen is a “classic”. I admire the aesthetic of it all. While the jumpsuit seems to be “Boring” in the tatse of others I believe that the assymetrical cuts in the front and the back of the jumpsuit add style, which distiguishes the piece from other products of the same style. Its design will be sure to exhibit the true silhouette of a womens body. It has indefinate functions that it could be used for, a day at the job or a night out with the girls. Donna Karen’s design that is versatile, and pret-a-porter. Convenience is key in todays fashion.

Comments are closed.

E-mail It