Donna Karan New York is an ongoing study in the evolution of a brand. It’s been less than two years since the label’s namesake left the brand. Shortly thereafter, she left fashion completely, expressing a desire to pursue other interest. Then, Public School founders Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow were announced as the brand’s new creative directors. From the outset, they made it obvious that the brand was no longer about khaki and middle-of-the-road styling.
The latest change, however, could be even more impactful. Earlier this year, LVMH sold DKNY to G-III Apparel Group. Never heard of them? I’m not surprised. They own brands such as Bass and Andrew Marc, neither of which are setting either the fashion or retail worlds on fire. They hold the licensing rights to Calvin Klein, but that brand has an entirely different set of issues and isn’t even showing to the public this season. DKNY immediately becomes G-III’s biggest brand, but there is a gigantic question mark over what changes, if any, they’re going to want to make.
Against that backdrop, Osborne and Chow presented a futuristic collection where necklines on sportswear run surprisingly deep, where practicality gives way to sexiness, and threads are literally left hanging. Yes, there are still pinstripes. Yes, there is still careful tailoring. And yes, they did manage to sneak in some khaki colored pieces even if they weren’t made of the actual material. Not everything about the brand has changed. Yet, compared to Ms. Karan’s last collection, the looks are light years away from each other.
Analysts argue that the DKNY brand needed a dramatic change if it was going to survive. This comes partly because the definition of what’s cool, especially in terms of casual clothing, has changed. We see that change reflected in the ubiquity of the hoodie and the waterproof jackets known as anoraks. I never considered either piece a necessarily sensual garment, but Osborne and Chow successfully infused a serious amount of sexiness into both silhouettes.
There is still a commitment to the athleisure look in this collection, and I get the feeling that’s not going away. What’s different is that they’ve made more of an effort to give a bit of street cred to the sports bra and shorts. The athletic shorts are even lined with lace along the hem. The bras show more cleavage, which is likely to be a bit distracting at the gym. There’s plenty of jersey knits in dresses in various states of deconstruction which keeps the look sporty for after the workout.
Tradition is not completely thrown out the window, though. There are some well-starched shirt dresses that are oversized enough to be rather modest. The design duo has even worked in a cashmere sweater, though its silhouette is, again, more futuristic and slightly deconstructed from anything else you might have in your closet. We did find it a bit confusing to see some looks with frayed hems while the rest of the collection is meticulously finished. I have a feeling the loose strings might have been a matter of playing to a trend.
What was really interesting were the extremely long threads hanging from the pinstriped looks. At first glance, they reminded me of the tasseled prayer shawls worn under the coats of Hassidic Jews. There’s no religious purpose to these strings, though, and as the looks develop we see them hanging from coat lapels and logo embroidery. While the strings are grossly impractical, likely to snag on everything one brushes near, they might well represent a breaking away from what the brand was before, heading toward a new future.
The question that remains is whether we’re ready for that future. Are we ready to give up individual looks for the safety of sameness found in the jumpers from the finale look? Are we ready to walk down the streets of Midwestern cities with our undergarments fully visible? What are the social implications if we do?
There’s no way to know exactly where DKNY goes yet. I doubt even Osborne and Chow are all that sure, either. This is a brand in the throws of evolution. We’re anxious to see what develops.