NEW YORK — The way Donna Karan viscerally connects with her customers is the stuff of industry legend. During personal appearances, she likes to step into the dressing room to help her clients try on looks, gives them fashion advice, and often becomes their on-site best friend and confidante.
Donna Karan International’s new e-commerce site, which goes live today, is as close to a personal appearance by the designer as possible. From engaging consumers in an interactive way to addressing issues of philanthropy and social responsibility, it is filled with Donna-isms that serve to translate Karan’s own inspiring qualities onto computer screens. Designed and built by online design firm Createthe Group and powered by CTS Ecommerce Platform, the site, which can be accessed through donnakaran.com and DKNY.com, takes a content-meets-commerce approach. In a groundbreaking move for a fashion house, DKI is partnering with New York magazine and the nymag.com site for content on things to do in Gotham, Karan’s evergreen source of inspiration.
“Donna Karan New York and DKNY have always embraced the two sides of New York City — a limousine and a taxi driver, caviar and pizza,” Karan said. “This e-commerce site brings you both in one place. More than a place to shop, it’s a complete brand experience, where commerce meets content with the style and energy of New York City.”
Company executives consider the launch bigger than the opening of any previous store. Karan is not new to e-commerce, having sold DKNY merchandise at DKNY.com since 2005. This is the first time she is selling Collection online, and she does so under the same roof as DKNY, with a centralized customer service and shopping cart. That said, each brand has a distinct voice, and visitors can easily toggle between DKNY and Donna Karan Collection.
James Gardner, founder and chief executive officer of Createthe Group, said a mandate was to “make the whole experience between DKNY and Donna Karan collection seamless, quick and easy-to-shop.
“Our view is that the Collection and the DKNY consumer are different, but there is overlap and cross-sell opportunity between the two,” Gardner noted. “The Collection consumer coming to buy a $9,000 piece of ready-to-wear may see a DKNY item. Similarly, the DKNY consumer buying a $300 or $400 bag may come in and see a Donna Karan Collection bag at $1,000 or $1,500 and upgrade for that. We are making it very quick and easy for her to find the product, and the product imagery is very desirable.”
The site’s editorialized content is extensive, and allows visitors to shop runway looks; learn about Karan’s iconic system of dressing; view “Donna’s Journal,” from perusing Karan’s personal must-have items called “Love, Love, Love”; read interviews with some of her famous friends at “DK Talk” (the first Q&A being “Mad Men” star Christina Hendricks), and find out information about Karan’s extensive inspirational journeys at “DK Travel.” An ongoing feature called “Ask Donna” lets shoppers directly ask Karan questions, making the site almost as intimate as a personal appearance.
Karan was keen to make the site as easy to shop as her actual boutique. For instance, customers can view each runway look from the season and scroll their mouse across it to get a back view, or click for a detail shot which is as clear as holding the actual garment. The page also features a link to view the entire fashion show video.
This wouldn’t be the full Donna experience if it didn’t tap into Karan’s humanitarian side and her interest in philanthropy, social responsibility, Urban Zen and inspiring change. As part of the company’s 25th anniversary, Karan started an initiative called “Women Who Inspire,” and the site showcases the profiles of women Karan is inspired by, the charities they are involved in through personal anecdotes, photos and videos, and the ways to contribute to them. For the launch, the women include Brooke Shields, Christy Turlington, Demi Moore, Emma Thompson, Evelyn Lauder, Fatima Bhutto, Iman, Joanna Lumley, Kerry Washington, Maria Shriver, Nicole Kidman, Rachel Zoe, Susan Sarandon, Uma Thurman, Vivian Wu, Bernadette Peters and Zaha Hadid.
“‘Women Who Inspire’ are women who make a difference,” Karan said. “The Web site gives their inspiring messages an interactive forum, encouraging women everywhere to take action and get involved.”
Those who visit the site can contribute to this philanthropic forum by nominating their own inspiring woman through facebook.com/donnakarannewyork. They will enter a contest, and viewers can cast their vote to pick the most inspiring one, who will receive $10,000 for her cause.
“If everyone inspires the person sitting next to them to take action, things will change,” Karan said. “I established my foundation, Urban Zen, to communicate, collaborate and connect a like-minded community to create change in the things that touch all of us: health care, education and culture, I welcome others to share what’s in their hearts.”
For the launch, visitors can also enter a contest to win a $10,000 Donna Karan wardrobe.
Like its clothing, the DKNY side of the Web site is driven by New York. In August, the brand asked aspiring photographers to upload inspiring photographs of New York to the brand’s Facebook photo gallery. “The best images have been selected and are presented as full-screen homepage,” Gardner said, adding that it’s “a truly user-generated home page that engages, inspires and connects with the consumer. Even the background of the DKNY site and the product detail page is a gray that subtly references the [New York] pavements.”
In addition to selling clothes, it features the online relaunch of the company’s DKNY Times newspaper, produced in a partnership with New York magazine and nymag.com. DKNY Times will give viewers a guide to New York happenings, from event listings such as gallery openings and suggestions on where to eat brunch and what DKNY looks to wear for it. The site’s “NYC Girl About Town” blog will be updated several times a day.
DKI, which is part of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, declined to disclose sales projections.
“The Internet is an amazing channel, as consumers reach out directly to access your brand,” Mark Weber, DKI’s chairman and ceo, said. “They have millions of choices about what sites to visit. So when they show they are determined to communicate with you, it is critical to have a digital store that leverages the best technology available and makes it easy to access the full breadth of your assortment. In luxury, satisfying the consumer’s desire is critical and, in enabling that to happen, our new site is an important tool in the ongoing development of our brands and business.”