Fashion designer Donna Karan on Monday night found herself in the midst of media mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment drama when she insinuated that women ask for abuse by dressing seductively.
Hours later, Karan apologized. But by Tuesday afternoon, the firestorm had yet to quiet down.
Here is why it matters:
On Thursday, the New York Times broke the story that Weinstein — the man whose company produced Good Will Hunting and Pulp Fiction — was an alleged sexual predator. Actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan were among the many young women who the Times said were on the receiving end of Weinstein’s somewhat gross overtures.
On Tuesday, the Times reported that actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie also had been harassed by Weinstein.
To date, the Weinstein Co. has reached settlements with eight of the women with whom Weinstein has allegedly had icky encounters. It’s also been reported that Matt Damon and Russell Crowe used their Tinseltown influence to get the Times story spiked in 2004. (Really? Yes, really.)
In response to the Times article, some of Hollywood’s biggest female names — Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Lena Dunham, Glenn Close — have raked Weinstein’s once-good name over the coals.
On Sunday, the Weinstein Co. fired its founder.
And what does this have to do with fashion?
For starters, Weinstein is married to Georgina Chapman, one half of red-carpet design duo Marchesa. (Chapman started the label with designer Keren Craig in 2004.) In the 10 years Chapman has been married to Weinstein, Marchesa has been worn on the red carpet by Sienna Miller, Renée Zellweger, and Jennifer Lopez, among many others.
But the real kicker came Monday night, when one of Chapman’s closest friend’s in fashion, Karan — the designer who singlehandedly changed the working woman’s wardrobe in the 1980s with her seven easy pieces — made the most odd, women-unfriendly statements in support of Weinstein.
While on the red carpet at the Cinémoi Fashion Film Festival Awards, Karan told a reporter at the Daily Mail that women may be “asking for it” by dressing seductively.
She went on to say, “You look at everything all over the world today and how women are dressing and what they are asking by just presenting themselves the way they do. What are they asking for? Trouble.”
Hours later, Karan released an apology, saying her unfortunate statements did not represent how she truly felt.
“My statements were taken out of context and do not represent how I feel about the current situation concerning Harvey Weinstein,” Karan wrote. “I believe that sexual harassment is NOT acceptable and this is an issue that MUST be addressed once and for all regardless of the individual.”
Karan also apologized to all the people she offended and whom Weinstein may have harassed.
The fashion fallout
Whatever Karan says, the damage has been done.
As expected, Twitter went nutso. McGowan tweeted that Karan was “a deplorable.”
Donna Karan you are a DEPLORABLE Aiding and abetting is a moral crime. You are scum in a fancy dress pic.twitter.com/Vze7lnpdvj
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) October 10, 2017
It didn’t matter that Karan hasn’t been at the helm of any of her brands for several years now. (The Donna Karan brand is owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH; DKNY is owned by G-III.) People still connect Karan to the eponymous brands she started all those years ago. She made millions designing for women.
Hey Donna Karan.... Here's a new slogan for your new DKNY collection: "Are We Asking for It?" pic.twitter.com/xDy1tafkua
— Lauren Werner �� (@LaurenWern) October 10, 2017
As of Tuesday morning, WWD reported that G-III’s shares were down 3.36 percent in pre-market trading.
And how does this affect my closet?
In the 1970s, Karan introduced the cold shoulder to fashion. It was the only part of the woman’s body that doesn’t age, she said, so flaunt it. The look became synonymous with all that was powerful and sexy, and recently has been enjoying quite the fashion comeback.
Karan may no longer own any of her eponymous brands, but she is at the helm of Urban Zen. Until Monday, I considered Urban Zen one of those aspirational brands, the epitome of (fashionably) wearing your beliefs on your sleeve. The collection of comfortable, body-skimming deconstructed tops and wide-legged pants in plush fabrics were the perfect blend of comfort and female empowerment. The clothing’s sex appeal was inherent and accepted. I could live in my full-on womanness in Karan designs.
Now I feel like I’ve been had. The woman who told generations of American women that it was OK to embrace their femininity is now blaming women for being sexually harassed? And she used the oldest excuse in the book: the way women dress. Sure, Karan said she didn’t mean what she said, but the bottom line is she said it, and she expounded upon it.
The woman who has championed women’s empowerment in fashion for decades revealed herself as a fraud. She told us that if we had it, it was OK to flaunt it — but now it turns out that if we flaunt it, it’s our fault if we are harassed.
That messaging is just beyond wrong.