By  on December 9, 2010

Those who have spent some time with Donna Karan know she has been pondering the seasonality of collections, the fashion show system and the industry as a whole for quite some time. Her newest introduction — an element of casual pieces she will unveil with her pre-fall collection today — is one more step in that journey.

Gone are the days when designers put 80-plus looks on a runway, so a designer’s message has to be precise and impactful and form the halo for a brand—a notion about which Karan is all too aware.

“You try to put 35 girls on the runway each season and make it look so concise, artistically and communicationwise, but then you look at the whole person and what is really needed in her closet?” Karan said in an exclusive interview. “What is her passion and what are her desires? In thinking about her life, it became more apparent to me that we needed more of a lifestyle-driven collection.”

This shift is one that executives at Donna Karan International Inc. aren’t taking lightly.

They refer to the new group as a “reformulating” of the entire company, with a plan to address the need for fashion in a more relaxed lifestyle paradigm, and in the process dress more people. The new perspective is the brainchild of Karan, and should be music to parent LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which must be looking for a return on its investment in the American designer brand.

Karan said she’d dabbled in the idea over the years, offering cashmere collections, as well as special Gold and Icons lines, the latter of which reinstated her seven easy pieces concept. The new casual component, which was quietly tested for spring but is fully launching for pre-fall, is addressing the newfound need for relaxed designer clothes.

“I think their adaptation to a relaxed way of life has a more fashionable twist to it,” she said. “It’s not just a T-shirt any longer. A T-shirt has to have so much more meaning. It has to have the drape to it, the ease to it, the edge to it. A pant is not just a pant, but there has to be the seaming of it, the suede detail, the distressed quality, the washes of the fabric.

“The way I look at it, it’s the next generation of where jeans go,” Karan added. “I think we have been very jean-oriented and it’s about blue jeans, blue jeans, blue jeans, but the jeans business has evolved, too,” she said. “There are other pieces, but in spite of all that, I say there is another, more relaxed way of dressing.”

For pre-fall, the seven pieces consist of a double-layer T-shirt dress, washed georgette shell, a jersey T-shirt, a skinny pant, a cashmere knit, a washed biker jacket and a shearling piece. The palette is neutral, from ebonies to sage and green leaf colors.

“This is putting together a lifestyle point of view,” Karan said. “It’s something we have been working on but now it’s being framed in such a way that it balances into the collection. No question about it, it could stand independently.”

That said, while Karan, during the design process, saw the collection as a fully independent element with its own name, the line is expected to now only be delineated by the coloration and fabric of the label, though details are still being ironed out.

“It’s important to integrate the two collections together,” she said. “We had the discussion to keep them totally separate, but I really think that this speaks to her lifestyle now. We are now rounding out the complete lifestyle, from a black-tie, drop dead dress to something she can lounge around and do absolutely nothing in. It’s the reinstatement of what Donna Karan is about.” Just don’t label it “casual,” a word Karan takes issue with.

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