Donna Karan took us back to Africa for her spring summer 2012. It’s a familiar destination for New York’s best known woman designer. Her aesthetic lends itself to the safari palette and savannah textures more readily than most. Tapping into a collective craving for escapism, she proffered the Kenyan wilderness as an alternative. My problem with this throughout the show was the difficulty I had reconciling her determinedly urban fan base and their executive wardrobes with the rough geometry of Kuba textiles and Masai inspired robe dresses.
Her point of view became completely clear only at the show’s after party. An exhibition in her Urban Zen space, which was her husband, Stephan Weiss’s sculpture studio, before his death in 2001 was dedicated to highlighting the work of artisans from Haiti. Donna Karan has been part of a group initiative lead by New Yorkers including Mary J Blige that has raised over $2 million for the ongoing relief effort since the devastating earthquake in 2010.
Crafts and artefacts from makers in the region were exhibited in the sprawling loft space. Textiles in the show had been produced by some of the regions’ artists and designers. It’s still difficult to imagine how the black and brown palette used in full skirted cotton dresses, the jagged brush stroke prints on calico and the saffron and earthen coloured silk jersey evening dresses would work on Madison Avenue or Bond St. But the spirit of the project was inspiring.
- Paula Reed in New York