In a "Master Class" hosted by Hearst Tuesday evening, Elle Editor-in-Chief Robbie Myers spoke with fashion designer Donna Karan on the debut of her memoir, "My Journey." "It's the best thing a book can be, which is that it's honest, it's revealing, it's genuinely moving, which is a very hard thing to do," Myers said as she held up Karan's book for the audience to see.
As an homage to Karan's iconic "Seven Easy Pieces," a seven-piece collection of womenswear essentials the designer launched in 1985, we picked out our seven favorite anecdotes, quotes and stories from her talk. Read on to learn about the most important piece of clothing she owns, dressing Bill Clinton and her thoughts on fashion's youth obsession.
1. Calvin Klein is her "BFF."
"What is the real essence of how I want to spend the next 10 years? I have a lot of ideas, I just want to make sure there's enough time and space and the place to be able to live life a little. There's a lot of places that I want to travel to that I have not been to. Believe it or not, I've never been to China. How could I have not seen China? So I got my friend Calvin [Klein] saying, 'Come on, let's go to China.'"
"I think Calvin and I have both been on a journey together," explained Karan. "In the beginning, I said to Calvin, when he was at Calvin Klein and I was at Anne Klein, 'What a great idea that we make one Klein. Why do we need two Kleins? We can have The Kleins. And you can do fall, or whatever the case may be. And we only have to work six months out of the year! This is perfect!' He said, 'I love what I do. I'd never ever, ever leave it.' So, that's always a joke between the two of us. It's wonderful to share the intimacies of understanding what we both go through and have gone through as designers. So I would call him a BFF."
2. The scarf is the most important thing you could own today.
"There is nothing more important than the scarf because you can wrap yourself in it, you can hide yourself in it, you can go make it into a dress, you can wrap it into a pillow and go sleep on the plane. So you always have to have a scarf with you no matter where you are."
3. She's all about giving the cold shoulder.
"You're never going to gain weight on your shoulders. You could expose your shoulder and be fine. Guaranteed: I have never seen a fat shoulder."
4. She has upped her focus on the Urban Zen Foundation.
With her decision to step down as chief designer of Donna Karan International, Karan has dedicated herself more to her Urban Zen Foundation, a company focused on healthcare, education and preservation of culture, specifically in Haiti. Urban Zen's latest project is the D.O.T., which stands for Design, Organization, Training Center. The program is based in Port-au-Prince and champions the region's talented artists. Through D.O.T., graduate students from Parsons School of Design teach Haitian artisans about modern innovations in design. Pairing these two perspectives is a remarkable experience, and, according to Karan, is a formula for success for developing countries who want to thrive in the global marketplace.
5. She has noticed that fashion speaks more to a younger generation.
"Who's designing for women today as opposed to young girls today?" asked Karan. It's a question that Myers has also brought up with Elle Creative Director Alex Gonzalez. "When you see a woman on the runway, it's very rare," said Myers. "You see a lot of girls. Why did fashion just decide that we're just going to dress girls?"
"I'm not sure. I question that myself, so I leave that up to you," said Karan with a laugh. "What's going on right now? Because I really don't understand. I think a lot of our clothes are geared towards a much younger generation or at least being designed. I don't know, maybe because there are younger designers? Possibly."
"It's interesting because we dress women," added Myers.
"And you don't see that on the runway," responded Karan. "Because I think the runway is positioned for what's new. Our ADD kicks in really quickly so I want to see it like that. And it has to be so sharpened because we do get bored. What they are trying to show is what's new. Maybe sometimes what's new is not right."
"Or just, you know, too short," quipped Myers.
6. On the other hand, President Bill Clinton is always right.
For President Clinton's inauguration in 1993, Karan was called to make him a tuxedo in just four days. But the two had a small disagreement when it came to sizing. She told the story to the audience last night:
"I asked President Clinton what size he was, and he said he was a 54 Long. And I said, 'I'm sorry. I don't want to dispute you but you're a 54 Extra Long.' So he said to me, 'No, I'm 54 Long.' I called Martin Greenfield [Ed note: the manufacturer for Karan's suits and tuxedos] and said, 'You've got to do me a favor. You've got to make me an Extra Long and a Long. Because he says he's a Long and I say he's an Extra Long because my husband wears a Long and I know how much taller he is.' It came to the inauguration and I see him that night at the Arkansas Ball. The first thing I say to the President, 'What size suit are you wearing?' 54 Long. Forget it. The President is always right."
7. Speaking of Clintons, she'd love to dress Hilary for a certain special day, too.
In 1992, Karan released a campaign titled "In Women We Trust," shot by Peter Lindbergh. The eight-page spread showcased a fictional first female president dressed in Karan's namesake line. "I was a little early," said Karan coyly. Just before the event wrapped up, Myers asked if has any feelings about another President Clinton. "I'd love to dress her, too, to the inauguration," she responded. "I'm looking forward to having the family back in the White House again."