As I discussed here, the fashion industry has been playing one big game of musical chairs lately. Designers are quickly entering and leaving design houses and companies faster than ever before. In the last year, Raf Simons left Dior, Alber Elbaz left Lanvin, Alexander Wang left Balenciaga and Hedi Slimane left YSL. There are also many speculations about even more designer and creative director appointments and departures.
While re-reading the April 2016 issue of British Vogue (much better than American Vogue, in my opinion), I saw a two page advertisement spread for DKNY. It looked a little something like this: thick, block font “DKNY” written in white, one black and white photograph, the other was in color but only colors in the picture were black, white and shades of grey. From my aforementioned post and also this one about the departure of DKNY PR Girl, it is safe to say that DKNY has gone through many changes in the past year or so.
With Donna Karan herself stepping down, the two designers from Public School entered to take over. I am not extremely familiar with all of Donna Karan’s previous designs, nor am I super familiar with all of the previous Public School collections but I have noticed, in just the two page magazine advertisement, how the identity and image of DKNY has shifted.
After seeing, and really examining this ad (trust me- there are annotations all over my magazine and this page is no different #fashionnerd), I became enamored by the idea of a brand. I should also note that prior to opening the magazine, I had been reading Aliza Licht’s (former DKNY PR Girl) book, Leave Your Mark, which is all about personal branding. Talk about ironic. Anyway- DKNY and branding were on the brain, then I saw this ad.
Back to the topic at hand: a brand. Donna Karan created her own label and brand as a designer. She has been a big player in the fashion world for over two decades. She established a defined image, credible reputation and personal style. The purpose of branding is for someone to see an item and immediately associate it with your company. For example, I would say that Kate Spade has a very defined brand. It is easy to spot a Kate Spade item and identify it as such. Donna Karan also created respected, recognizable and reputable brand.
I started thinking about how much the brand DKNY has changed since Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow have entered and taken over Donna Karan’s place as creative director. And then I realized, maybe its not that simple. The current DKNY ad has a completely new look and image compared to any DKNY ad from lets say, six years ago, and I directly attribute that to the new leadership.
Should new leadership automatically mean a new vision, identity and reputation of the brand? Or should the new leadership and designers align their points of view and visions with the larger ideals and visions of the company at large? Does the brand dictate the designer or does the designer dictate the brand?
In a Women’s Wear Daily article, Chow and Osborne disclose that this ad was supposed to capture the DKNY woman. Throughout the article, they elaborate on who the DKNY is, precisely. What I find interesting is that they cite that in previous years, DKNY “went off course” and was “too young for us”. Based on that statement, it seems that once they entered, they had a clear path and direction for how they wanted to shape and change the brand.
Very strong arguments can be made for both sides, and honestly, I’m not sure what I think. Neither the designer nor the brand should have to compromise its identity to successfully work together. But at the same time, especially when the brand is one single person (like Donna Karan New York), how does a brand continue to develop and identity itself after the departure of the lead name designer? Obviously, the issue is more complex than I am making it out to be, but it is for sure an interesting topic to ponder. What do you think? Tweet me or comment below, I’d love to hear all your thoughts and get a little discussion going!