Donna Karan needs no introduction. And while we’re at it, neither does her best friend forever, Calvin Klein. Well, make thatBFF-L, for lately. These most iconic of NewYork’s designers have always had a lot in common, and, in recent years, they have become truly great pals and traveling companions. Donna is from Queens (Forest Hills), Calvin is from the Bronx (the Mosholu Parkway section), but today they belong to the globe, which they have been trotting together with increasing frequency. This year is the 20th anniversary of Donna Karan’s quintessential Gothamite brand, DKNY, and so on this occasion, who better to interview DK than CK?
CALVIN KLEIN: All right, let’s start at the beginning. I did my homework, dude. I remember seeing you in the elevator at 205 West 39th Street all the time, and then, suddenly, you were Anne Klein’s assistant. Then just as suddenly,Anne passed away, and the next thing I knew, you took over. Tell me what that felt like.
DONNA KARAN: It was not planned—at all. As a matter of fact, I was expecting a baby, who turned out to be Gabby. Anne goes into the hospital, I’m expecting a baby, and a collection is due, all on the same day. Thank god I was 10 days late! While Anne was in the hospital, I was going back and forth to Long Island like, “Holy shit.” It was a typical fashion-crisis moment, when everything is being created and born at exactly the same time. I go into labor, and Gunther Oppenheim, a partner at Anne Klein, calls me and says, “Where are you?” I say, “I’m in the hospital. I just had a baby. Would you like to know if I had a boy or a girl? By the way, I had a girl.” He says, “When are you coming back to work? The collection is due.” I said, “What do you mean, the collection is due?” I talked to the doctor and he said I had to wait a week. So Oppenheim says, “We’ll come to you.” They bring the entire collection to me with all of the people on the team. I’m looking at it, and it’s pre-Fall—which is one of the things I hate more than life itself, pre-Fall. That day, Anne died.
KLEIN: Did you think, Now I’m screwed?
KARAN: Was I scared? I was like, This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of. I didn’t know what to do. I had just had a baby, so it was going to be about Gabby, not Anne Klein. [laughs] I was expecting to stay at home with my first baby, but that’s not the way the universe planned it. The universe really does . . . You don’t have that much choice in your life, which is one of the big lessons I’ve learned. I was going to be a designer whether I wanted to be a designer or not. So there I was.
KLEIN: So you just did it and you weren’t thinking, “Oh, my god, this is a huge business. Am I going into something that I’m prepared for?”
KARAN: There was a collection due, so, as a designer, I did it. I didn’t know what I couldn’t do, so I did my best. God bless my friend Kay Thompson. She pulled me through. She was the woman standing next to me holding my hand and making sure I wasn’t going to have a coronary. She pushed up her sleeves and got in there.
KLEIN: Does anything ever scare you?
KARAN: Everyday . . . Listen, right now I’m two weeks before a collection is due. I think this is probably one of the most challenging periods of our time. I’m scared today. As a designer, that’s the challenge that keeps me going. You know, What am I doing? It always feels like I’ve never done it before. But, at the same time, it’s been a lot of years. I mean, when we’re talking about Anne Klein—that was 1974.
KLEIN: You went from Anne Klein to Anne Klein II, and then at a certain point you started Donna Karan. I remember distinctly when that was—
KARAN: But do you remember what I said to you?
KLEIN: No, I don’t. You said many things to me all the time.
KARAN: When I met you in the elevator, I said, “Why don’t we join Anne Klein and Calvin Klein together and only have one Klein?”
KLEIN: Anne used to say that to me too, actually.
KARAN: We only needed one Klein out there. I said, “This is perfect. You do Spring. I do Fall. You do Fall. I do Spring.” It would’ve been such a perfect company.
Sourse: Interview magazine