Since she started her body-friendly womenswear line in 1985, Donna Karan has been a major multitasker, spinning off diffusion lines (DKNY), perfumes and even bedding. These days, the design power is also deeply involved in helping Haitian artisans rebuild after the country’s 2010 earthquake. The philanthropist-designer’s spring 2012 collection (sold locally at Neiman Marcus) takes its cues from the work of Haitian painter Philippe Dodard.
What inspired your spring collection?
I’ve been spending a major amount of my time in Haiti. Preservation of cultures is so much of what I’m about. People ask me where I get my inspiration, and I always say, “Traveling the world.”
How do the Haitian people inspire you?
Every person there is artistic. There is so much creativity, and they work from their soul and spirit. I don’t know many designers who aren’t inspired by the world. My first trip to Africa was a rebirth. That’s what brought me to Haiti: I got Africa 3 1/2 hours away.
How do you balance charity and design?
You can’t separate them. I can’t just dress people on the outside, I dress their insides. You can wear all the pretty clothes in the world, but if you don’t feel good on the inside, the soul isn’t there.
Hasn’t that always been an overriding theme of your clothes?
Yes. My clothes, by their nature, are inspired by yoga and what women need. It all started with the bodysuit.
You took over at Anne Klein at 25 years old. How did you do such a big job at such a young age?
I grew up in fashion. But honestly, I didn’t want to be a fashion designer. I just wanted to be a mother and to stay at home. But that’s not what the universe had planned for me.
What type of woman do you dress?
Women who are on the go have to be prepared for anything. They need clothes to make them feel good and give them confidence.
What’s the key to comfortable but chic clothes, then?
For me, the methodology of my clothes is that, if you can’t sleep in it and go out in it, I don’t want it.
Of all your travels, what places continuously inspire you?
Bali has always been my inspiration. It’s the answer to a lot of the world’s problems. It’s been able to preserve its culture. The artisans create products, and it has a spirit that takes you on a journey.
When you travel, what can’t you live without?
A scarf. And I need a mug. If I don’t have one with me, I buy one at the airport. I think I might have one from every city I’ve visited.