How We Met: Donna Karan and Stephan Weiss

By Berger, Laurel | The Independent (London, England), September 11, 1994 | Go to article overview
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How We Met: Donna Karan and Stephan Weiss

Berger, Laurel, The Independent (London, England)

The American designer Donna Karan, 45, was born on Long Island. The business she set up in 1984 is now a fashion empire including clothes for men and beauty products. She is the mother of Gabrielle, 20, from her first marriage, and stepmother to Weiss's son, Cory, 29, and daughter, Lisa, 27.

The sculptor Stephan Weiss, 55, also from Long Island, is a founding partner of the Donna Karan Co. He created Karan's scent and its suggestively sinuous flask. In 1993 he designed sets for the Martha Graham Dance Company. He and Karan live in Manhattan and their East Hampton beach house.

DONNA KARAN: There was a snowstorm. I was stranded in Manhattan, with no way of getting back to my mother's house on Long Island. Nineteen years old, a sophomore at art school, and engaged to Mark Karan, my now ex-husband. Stephan showed up one night at my girlfriend's apartment. He was 10 years older than I was, an artist, and, oh my God, terribly attractive. He also happened to be recently separated with two young children. Our conversation rather quickly reached esoteric levels and although I didn't understand a word of what he said, I was fascinated. We spent the rest of the week together.

Once the snow thawed, I realised that it would never work. Stephan was going through a rough time with his wife and I wanted to get married. Today it sounds weird, but in 1965 it somehow made sense. And so I married Mark, my best friend, really, but Stephan's memory always hovered in a corner of my mind.

Ten years to the day from our first meeting I spotted a mutual friend on the Long Island Railroad. I told her, "If you should talk to Stephan, tell him to give me a call." Then it was snowing again and Stephan was on the phone, would I like to have dinner with him? - and we were back together. Just like that.

We lived together for seven years before getting married in 1983. Stephan calls us "lifers" and it's comforting, since I'm extremely jealous of other women. In the beginning, wherever we went, women would come up to me and say "I know your husband intimately." Yeah, everyone knew my husband. I'd try very hard to keep a straight face and reply: "Thank you for sharing this. I am so happy to meet you." As soon as we were alone, I'd turn to Stephan and hiss: "Where did that one come from?"

Now the fact that I'm always trying to lose weight has nothing to do with this. We're actually too busy to be unfaithful to each other. Male models are not a temptation. That's business.

A lot of the clothing I design is inspired by Stephan's sculpture. And I often have him in mind when I'm working on menswear. It's important to me that he wears the things that I make. When I met him he was wearing jeans and a T-shirt and he'd probably be comfortable in that for the rest of his life. He does not shop. And yet he has very strong preferences when it comes to clothes. For instance, I design body suits for men but he adamantly refuses to wear one. And there's no getting him into a sarong. He hate-hate-hated the long dresses and men's shoes I used to wear. He said I looked like a nun. He'd like to see me in heels and a short skirt.

He likes modern, I like eclectic. Stephan is happy sitting still. I'm

more volatile and on the go. We both love the children, so that's easy. But we have different ideas about aesthetics. Take this beach house. The bottom of our swimming-pool is painted blue. He was going through his

blue period at the time and I almost died when he picked it out. I would have chosen black.

Our professional and personal lives are completely intertwined and things sometimes get heated. People aren't aware of how much this business affects our relationship. We still find time to laugh at ourselves, though.

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