New York Observer
"The Transform; Cold Shoulders"
May 1, 2006
Author: Amy L. Odell
Read this article online at observer.com
The Transform; Cold Shoulders
"Women can always show their shoulders because they never gain weight there," said Donna Karan on April 20 to 400 or so fashion-design students at Parsons, her alma mater. She was explaining her "cold shoulder" dress, named for cutouts at the shoulders. "I thought this was a genius idea," she said of the design, which was first panned by critics then donned by Liza Minelli and Hillary Clinton.
Ms. Karan sat at a square red lacquer table in the corner of a stage in Tishman Auditorium, legs crossed, her arms folded across her lap. Parsons dean Paul Goldberger, who interviewed her on stage, had been glad to announce prior to the lecture Ms. Karan's gift to Parsons: an undisclosed sum of money upward of $2.5 million for a new professorship toward a graduate fashion-design program.
Ms. Karan ruminated on topics like her difficulty learning languages and her annoyance at winter window displays of spring clothes.
"This makes minus, minus, minus, minus sense to me," she said. "Drives. Me. Crazy."
She called her daughter, Gabby, her toughest critic.
"When she goes out and wears Chloť, I get really annoyed," she said.
The floor opened to audience questions and a tall, skinny young man took the mike. He identified himself as a Paul Andrews intern, in collection shoes.
"I don't know if you remember me, Donna," he began.
"I do. How are you?" she replied.
"I'm doing good."
"You did those marvelous leather jackets, didn't you?"
Affirmative! The intern said he had seen a flier for the night's event and wanted to come by to give Ms. Karan some stuff he's made. He brought a brown paper shopping bag up to the stage. Ms. Karan rifled through it.
"Oh, totally cool. Oh, that is so cool," she said and held up black beads strung together in connected loops.
"Did you make this? Oh, where did you get this?" she said. Next was a geometric black sleeveless wrap top. She put it on.
"That is so cool," she said. "There's modernity!"
She quickly removed the garment, realizing it muffled her microphone.
After the lecture a gaggle of designer wannabes surrounded Ms. Karan at the foot of the stage. Parsons graduate and graphic designer David Greg Harth brought his art project: a Bible signed by public figures, including Tony Blair, Muhammad Ali and David Bowie. Mr. Harth started collecting signatures in 1997 and will continue until 2017. He plans to display the pages in an art gallery or museum. Ms. Karan gladly penned her autograph perched on the edge of the stage.
"What a good idea!" she said.
What was Ms. Karan's favorite look for spring? "I'm wearing it," she said, swishing her loose below-the-knee see-through black dress of meshy fabric with oh-so-fashionable side pockets. She wore black tights underneath that ended below the knee–only visible if her dress lifted. She covered her shoulders with a light shrug made of brown suede tied in front with an inoffensive black bow.
For colors, she "loves everything off," like navy with black, black with white, or red with black. And she said sunglasses "have to fit well."
"I personally like sunglasses that are more north-south. Everybody likes east-west, but I don't like the east-west ones that are like goggles," she said. "You know, you want to feel comfortable in the glasses–they have to be a part of you."
Her unpolished toes hanging over well-heeled black platform sandals tied around her ankles with black bands, Ms. Karan said those new super-high heels aren't for her.
"They look great on the runway," she said. "People who can wear them–God bless them."
And unlike the stiffs at Burberry or H&M, Ms. Karan said she would use a model caught on tape snorting lines.
"I think we all go through our challenges in life, and I think facing them and dealing with them is brilliant. I have no judgments," she said.
Copyright 2006 the new york observer, L.P.