Urban Zen presentation Donna Karan

NEW YORK — For those who have been following Donna Karan’s career over the last few decades, there’s always been a similar refrain: She’s been a huge proponent of changing the fashion cycle to time deliveries to when the customer can actually buy and wear the clothes.

This story first appeared in the September 15, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The biggest issue that I have is come November and December, you see these silk dresses hanging in the store. Fall’s on markdown, which is training the customer to be in the ‘white sale’ business,” said Karan in an interview Wednesday at her Urban Zen boutique in the West Village, the day after she showed editors the fall Urban Zen collection.

This season, some of the biggest names in American fashion — namely Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford — staged “see-now-buy-now” shows, making fall clothes available to purchase immediately after they were seen on the runway. Not only has Karan been preaching this for years, but ever since she launched Urban Zen in 2007 she has been showing an “in-season” collection to editors.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten the credit and I’m really annoyed about it,” Karan said. “It’s not that I personally [need the credit], but nobody was understanding the [negative] affect it was having on the industry.”

In other words, the customers were frustrated they couldn’t buy what they saw on the runway and then were bored with it by the time they finally saw it six months later in the store and celebrities had been photographed all over wearing it. “The power of celebrities continues, but adds to fashion fatigue in our industry. Consumers particularly now want immediate gratification,” she said. She said the strategy she employs at Urban Zen is “see, shop, in season.”

In fact, in her show notes for Urban Zen, Karan wrote,  “Everything is accessible to us — here, today, this minute, not six months from now. Presenting and experiencing our fall 2016 collection in September with press and directly to the consumer, all at once. No delay. I’ve always said that’s how a customer wants to shop and that’s how I’m showing. The new season is in season. Enjoy.”

Karan acknowledged that the Internet has really changed the face of fashion and has impacted how everyone does business. “There’s not one person not affected by the Internet,” she said. Customers go into the store, see a dress, try it on and then buy it on the Internet at a better price. “The fashion industry is a mess. It makes me crazy,” the designer said.

Does she believe that more European designers will come around and adopt “see-now-buy-now?” “Europe is totally against it. A lot of designers are making an artistic statement and I respect that completely,” she said.

Urban Zen is influenced by Karan’s travels and features women’s ready-to-wear, statement jewelry, handcrafted leather pieces, furniture and artisan made home decor. It also has a major philanthropic component. Urban Zen is sold in such stores as Bergdorf Goodman, Trois Pommes, A’maree’s and Joan Shepp. It is also available at urbanzen.com. The company plans to open an Urban Zen store in Los Angeles next month, and has flagships in New York’s West Village, Sag Harbor, Manhasset and a seasonal shop in Aspen.

Karan said she has appointments with retailers next month to see the spring collection, which is completed, and she’ll show that collection next February to editors.

“I have been through so much over the past year — the closing of Donna Karan, seeing all my people no longer there, it’s been a very hard year,” Karan said. “On the positive side, it’s given me a lot of time and space to really commit to what I believe in. Not that I don’t believe in Donna Karan and DKNY. They’re my children, and I’ve been to every show. I’ve gone to the showroom to look at the line and consulted. I’m doing what I believe in. I really do believe in Urban Zen. I enjoy it, and I have my clothes from it, and I can make a difference.”

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