By  on April 25, 2006

NEW YORK — "You can't make a designer....I think you're born to design," said Donna Karan at Parsons The New School for Design on Thursday.

"It's a gift," she continued. "But what is a designer? How do you create a designer? How do you help support a designer? How do you allow that which is inside of you innately to come to fruition? Well, that's where we have teachers."

Karan was speaking in the final installment of the "At the Parsons Table" series in a conversation with Paul Goldberger, the school's dean. During the conversation, she discussed her career, her fashion and lifestyle philosophy and her take on fashion globalization. Along the way, she peppered the chat with unexpected tidbits, including the revelation that she once contemplated leaving New York, the city that informs so many of her designs, for Italy.

The event was held at The New School's Tishman Auditorium.

Karan recalled how she came to Parsons. She couldn't decide between the school and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

"They said if I was going to be an illustrator, I'd go to FIT, and if I was going to be a fashion designer, I'd go to Parsons," she said. "So I went to Women's Wear Daily and asked them, 'Could I have a summer job?' I was dismissed very quickly. [The head of WWD] says, 'My darling, you just absolutely do not know how to sketch. So I highly recommend you choose another field.' Well, I was mortified about that...because I really thought I was a brilliant illustrator, as I still do."

So Karan enrolled at Parsons, where she failed a course in draping and dropped out of the school to work for Anne Klein before starting her own label in 1984. (She received a bachelor's degree from Parsons in 1987.)

"[Anne Klein] says, 'You can sit anywhere you want,' and where did I want to sit in...the sample room," Karan said. "For me the sample room is where it's at, here it all happens."

Karan added that fashion is about touching people through the experience of fabric against the skin. To her, it is a sensual, "visceral" experience. While she respects the use of computer technology in fashion design, she stressed the importance to maintain the craft's "hand, soul and touch."

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