Donnaspeak can be a complicated language. “Absolutely Donna Karan. Can’t be anybody else,” the designer explained of her fall collection during a weekend preview. She noted a return to the body and a direct link to the “seven easy pieces” on which she established her business. She also spoke of her personal, long-in-coming discovery that her work has always been the fashion counterpart of the art of her late husband, Stephan Weiss. “If you look at Stephan’s sculpture, it’s all about the body.…It’s my DNA. It’s who I am,” she said. In her show notes, Karan continued the motif, calling herself “a New York woman, embracing the world” with clothes for all day, all night and “every culture.”
Possible in the grand scheme, perhaps. But a lot to put on one collection of 39 looks. The result was a journey that lost its way. Karan titled the collection “Sensual. Soulful. Sculptural.” Check and check, on the bookend adjectives. At its best, the clothes radiated Karan’s sexy, body-centric allure that has become increasingly artful over the years. Time and again she draped, twisted and slashed her beloved jerseys to perfection in fabulous dresses. Similarly, there were beautifully sculpted coats, sometimes worn under capelets for extra dash.
But “soulful?” The expression of spirituality via layered shearlings and warrior-woman slashed leathers is a questionable enterprise from the start. But even if you accept the premise and run with it (assuming the “it” reflects the more artisinal end of the show’s range), this time out, it wasn’t pretty. The mangy heft of a shag sweater, an evening dress with a bodice of “eroded snakeskin” embroidery or a brown leather breastplate — these came off as ponderous and kind of a downer.
Conversely, Donna also spliced wool and sheer jerseys into gowns, sometimes adding a high-drama cape or shearling cowl. While not at all vulgar, these exposed enough skin to be considered risqué — in a gloriously urbane way. So much for soulful. With apologies to another famous New Yorker’s well-known perspective, Donna should have hung more with her sinners than her saints. The sinners had much more fun. And more glamour, too.