It was a major moment for DKNY, the ceremonial passing of the torch from the founder of one of the greatest houses in the history of American fashion to its next-generation shepherds.


Donna Karan was there in the audience in the Westfield World Trade Center West Gallery (aka the new PATH station) as Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne offered the first glimpse of their vision for DKNY. While it must have been an emotionally difficult moment for her, she had reason to find some level of comfort as well. The designers made clear from the start that they’re operating from a position of great respect. Not awed reverence — which seldom works in anyone’s favor — but respect.


For their first look out, they chose a beautifully tailored, pin-striped jacket over a crisp white shirting romper. Right off the bat: an essential item, the jacket; [ital.] the [ital.] essential dichotomy, masculine-feminine in the sharp tailoring atop glorious legginess. Later would come more overt homage: two photo-print looks, one with Peter Lindbergh’s campaign photo of a model standing at the corner of William Street and Exchange Place in the Financial District; the other, a 1985 still of Rosemary McGrotha in Donna Karan’s first campaign, shot by Denis Piel.


But the designers’ focus was tailoring, a dance between men’s suiting and white shirting fabrics. Starting with the traditional tropes of construction, they manipulated and twisted, folding, pleating, cutting away. Along the way, they might lop off the bottom half of a jacket and replace it with shirttails or a faux pin-striped knit, or slice away half of a pin-striped dress to reveal a white skirt. If it sounds tricky, it wasn’t. They delivered with a certain sophistication, even as they applied their techniques across a lot of clothes — coats, jackets, skirts.


There was also a good deal of discernible influence at play, and not only Donna’s. It’s extremely difficult to be inventive in any level of fashion, especially these days in the flooded contemporary arena. And appropriation is an accepted, even essential part of fashion. Yet some obvious points of influence (Calvin, Margiela) surprised.


What Chow and Maxwell did beautifully well was establish a template on which to build a baseline for quality (the clothes looked well-executed) and clarify a customer base. In a conversation with WWD earlier this month, they made clear that their DKNY isn’t kids’ stuff. “Our customers are our peers, everyone who is still on their journey,” Osborne said. She’s a woman, Chow added, who’s “just getting into her own in terms of career, starting a family, her life is multilayered with different dimensions.”


Here, they focused on one dimension. But it was a strong one on which to start.

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