Friday, February 5, 2010

New York Wonder Women: Donna Karan and Julie Gilhart

One of the things I love best about fashion is its history of propelling great women to prominence. This doesn't mean that the pioneering female designers, editors, directors had an easy ride. Rather, it seems to be an organic "fit" that people accept, even while they resist women in the boardroom and in the courtroom. Thus, with fewer impediments to the mere fact of their gender, these brilliant women are able to simply be PEOPLE WITH MASTERY OVER A CRAFT and an INDUSTRY.

Recently I was able to enjoy an audience with two such women. In honor of their new exhibition about design and sustainability, the Pratt Institute held a panel discussion featuring two designers of sustainable clothing lines, Caroline Priebe of Uluru and Mary Ping of Slow and Steady Wins the Race, along with Julie Gilhart, the Fashion Director of Barney's.

Julie has an amazing story, which my friend MVG would be happy to tell you. MVG positively idolizes Julie because they're both from Texas and both love fashion. Having seen Julie only briefly in "Seamless," a great documentary about the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Prize, I was anxious for her to prove her worthiness of being a high-powered woman at one of the most important department stores in the U.S. She absolutely delivered the goods.

In a Dries Van Noten jacket, embellished with fair trade beads from Africa, Julie Gilhart discusses sustainable fashion.

Julie went right to the heart of the matter of why sustainability matters: Basically it's an issue of prioritizing QUALITY over QUANTITY (something I've ranted about before). Fast fashion may serve a certain purpose, but it's incredibly wasteful because the clothes aren't designed for longevity; as my dear college friend, DAW, used to say "Yeah...those clothes WON'T last Forever...21." In addition to being wholly disposable, there's nothing LUXURIOUS about those pieces. Life is miserable and predictably awful much of the time. If we have the option and opportunity to inject a little luxury (and to effect conscientious change for our planet) then we should take full advantage. As Julie said,
"I want GOOD FOOD,


After the discussion ended, MVG finally chatted with her hero! Feeling like a proud mother, I snapped this shot of the two of them walking down the stairs together. MVG even snagged Julie's last business card before JG jetted off to see the Paris shows.

Last night, MVG and I rendezvoused at Parsons to celebrate their new MFA program and to hear Donna Karan speak about her life experiences.

I had previously seen, but not heard, DK at Fashion's Night Out. I grew up loving DK's gorgeous draperies and her distinctly urban style: to me, she is the personification of New York City. She spoke of working for Anne Klein, and creating her first collection when she was pregnant and Anne was diagnosed with cancer and dying in the hospital. Donna literally worked on the collection until she was 9 days overdue, gave birth, and then Anne died the next day. It aroused in me the awareness (that I have yet to fully experience myself) of how bittersweet the struggles to be a successful woman can be: to lose a mother-figure, to become a mother yourself, and to have to fight to keep your business afloat. But Donna did it all, and in that particular instance she did it in the course of a few days.

As a natural caregiver she also touched on the ideas of socially responsible and sustainable clothing, and, even more importantly, about social consciousness itself. She said that it wasn't enough to join a charity in which you can be abstractly involved, but rather that social consciousness means being aware of the person sitting next to you and respecting their life and their story and the things that are happening to them. In a way, it's a QUALITY vs. quantity approach to human relations and one's day-to-day existence.

On a less serious note, she admitted to failing her "Draping" course at Parsons and being forced to take the summer school course; obviously she has more than compensated for that short-coming!
Sometimes I allow myself to be confused and incorrectly believe that New York is dominated and driven by the social set. Discussions like these with Julie and Donna remind me that women with sharp minds, a keen eye, and a clear voice are truly the ladies who rule New York.

Thank God.


Sharon said...

Sounds Amazing! They are truly inspirations for those of us here in NY right in the middle of the struggle ourselves...Miss you Christine!

BLC :o said...

So true!!! The questions is, will you be ruling NYC one day!? I hope so! :) Xoxo-BLC