Iconic Supermodels Featured in Ad Campaign for Donna Karan New York
Cindy. Linda. Carolyn. Amber. Shalom. Liya. Imaan. Karlie.
The supermodels are all famous enough to simply go by their first names — and they all appear in the big splashy ad campaign marking the spring relaunch of Donna Karan New York with a collection that takes its cues from the designer’s highly successful “7 Easy Pieces.”
Featured in the spring campaign are Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Amber Valletta, Shalom Harlow, Carolyn Murphy, Imaan Hammam, Karlie Kloss and Liya Kebede.
The models came together for a campaign titled “In Women We Trust,” (the title of Karan’s original 1992 campaign) which not only celebrates the past but looks to the future of the Donna Karan ethos of timeless elegance, empowered women and accessible luxury, tailored for today’s women.
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz in a raw warehouse space in Brooklyn, the effort represents G-III Apparel Group’s largest ad campaign to date. It was styled by Jessica Diehl, with video by Barbara Leibovitz Hellman. The ads feature hair and makeup by Shay Ashual and Francelle Daly, respectively.
The creative director of the campaign was Trey Laird, who previously worked in-house at Donna Karan International for 11 years, and led the Karan account at his agency Laird + Partners for nine years.
G-III, which acquired Donna Karan International Inc. in 2016 from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton for $650 million, has gone into the archives to reimagine the Donna Karan New York brand. The in-house studio team studied thousands of archival looks and vintage details to design the collection to meet the needs of today’s consumer. Donna Karan New York was first launched in 1985 and was privately owned by the designer and her late husband, Stephan Weiss, before being sold to LVMH in 2001 for $243 million.
In the new campaign video, for example, each of the models speaks about Donna Karan’s influence on Fashion. “Donna represents strength and sensuality. You can be whoever you want to be,” said Evangelista.
“‘In Women We Trust’ is such a powerful statement. We need more women to lead us into the future because women think differently,” said Valletta.
“She introduced a new style of power dressing which celebrated women and their bodies. That was her sweet spot, and it still is,” said Crawford.
The reintroduction includes Donna Karan apparel, accessories and footwear. Classic silhouettes, accentuated by artful draping, showcase sculptural hardware inspired by key accessories. There’s crisp tailoring and body-flattering cuts to draped sleeveless dresses and collared black bodysuits. There are modernized classics in a range of super sheers and liquid satins, with metallic opalescent and gold-flash finishes. The collection features bold wraps, ties and slice details. Anchored in black, white and neutrals from zinc to fawn and chalk, the seasonal palette also includes rose quartz, tourmaline and blue frost.
The models are photographed wearing, for example, a crisp cotton shirtdress, a signature bodysuit, a sleeveless draped dress and a lightweight blazer, paying homage to the instantly recognizable “7 Easy Pieces,” as they evolve into a “System of Dressing.”
The spring Donna Karan New York collection, which will be available starting Thursday, will be carried both in the U.S. and globally. Some of the U.S. retail partners are Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Belk and Von Maur, along with donnakaran.com. Retail prices range from $159 to $599.
Asked why they determined now was the right time to reintroduce Donna Karan New York, Jeff Goldberg, executive vice president of G-III, said after evaluating its in-house brands, “It’s very obvious that Donna Karan is an incredible brand and is ready to grow. She is the iconic American woman designer, and just having that asset, we thought was amazing.” He said they found out there was a lot of demand for the brand in vintage stores and from articles they read.
Asked whether they plan to go back into the archives each season or will start developing new ideas for Donna Karan, Goldfarb said, “The archives are so rich. When we launch it, it’s easy to go back into the archives and see all these amazing, great pieces.” He said “the goal is to look at those archives and build a brand that’s true to the archives but at the same time creating a future that builds upon the past.”
Goldfarb said he wanted to hire Laird because he understood Karan and G-III. Laird had done ad campaigns in the past for G-III’s DKNY and Karl Lagerfeld brands, in addition to working with Karan’s original company on campaigns.
The Donna Karan campaign will roll out starting Thursday on all the brand’s social channels highlighting these eight women sharing their individual stories. The brand will further amplify the campaign with a 360 approach across North America through a media mix of digital, print and premium outdoor.
Jacki Brouza, senior vice president, global marketing and communications, said the brand will utilize premium outdoor units in the top 10 U.S. markets and digital takeovers of most sites.
“This is the biggest budget we ever had,” said Goldfarb, declining to reveal the exact size of the spring ad budget.
In creating the campaign, Laird said it was important to think about how to create something that tells the story of the designer’s legacy, and the power of the brand, what it stands for and stood for, and have it move forward. “And be true to its iconic codes but at the same time put it out in the spirit that feels right for today,” he said.
He said the ultimate inspiration was Karan’s personal strong belief in women.
“She [Karan] was always a woman designing for other women and always understood that and built that into the brand. There wasn’t really one woman who encompassed everything that the Donna Karan brand stood for. We thought how amazing if we could get different generations of women, all who had different connections with Donna Karan over the years, either through campaigns or shows or events or the Fashion industry in general, and to have them come together to show the beauty and power of how Donna Karan, the brand, connects with so many different types of women,” said Laird.
Laird said he initially called each model and explained that the brand was being relaunched and had been out of the market in the apparel category. “Everybody said ‘yes’ immediately,” said Laird. “It was no easy task to get all these women together, it was spectacular. At the same time I thought if we’re making this statement on women, I feel like Annie Leibovitz should capture this.
“Annie is almost like a cultural documentary photographer. She’s not simply a Fashion photographer, and Annie always makes something iconic, and it transcends Fashion,” said Laird. “This wasn’t just a spring Fashion campaign. It had to be an iconic moment that really captured what this brand emotionally, visually, every way, stood for.”
He said all the pieces were interpreted from Karan’s original archives. Crawford and Kloss are in the original bodysuits. Valletta and Harlow are in cold shoulder jersey wrap tops. “There are a lot of women out there who really miss the Donna Karan brand and remember it, but there’s also new generations who haven’t been able to purchase it for awhile. We wanted to transcend the different generations,” said Laird.
Laird had each woman do a specific film.
Laird said he chose the name “In Women We Trust,” which was the name of Donna Karan’s 1992 campaign that showed model Rosemary McGrotha running for president.
Laird said Leibovitz shot a tableau and also did individual shots of each woman. Evangelista is wearing a trench that’s an updated version of a trench she wore on the Donna Karan runway in the ’90s. Valletta and Harlow said they’ve been best friends for more than 25 years and met on a Donna Karan shoot their first season.
“I had Donna [Karan] on Facetime at the shoot, and Amber, Shalom and Linda were giving a preview. And in true Donna Fashion, she started telling me which pictures should be laid out with the others,” said Laird.
He said they styled the shoot with the original vintage jewelry from Robert Lee Morris from the archives. “Karlie is wearing the original bodysuit and original belt and matte jersey stockings, and Carolyn is wearing the iconic white skirt and wrap skirt and gold cufflinks. In her video, she said Cindy Crawford wore this down the runway in the ’90s, and ‘I’m sitting here in that look.’”
Laird said the whole experience was very moving because Donna Karan was one of the first shows or first campaigns that many of these models ever worked on. “I think Amber said it best. She said, ‘I can be part of the legacy, but I also get to be part of the future.’”
Asked whether they were able to use all the archival Fashion shows photos and ad campaigns in the current marketing, Laird said they did all the clearances they needed to do. For example, he said, Peter Lindbergh Foundation gave them complete clearance for “all Peter [Lindbergh’s] iconic Donna campaigns.”
In light of the fact that one of the biggest trending things on TikTok is ’90s runway, Laird said, “We have these incredible moments of Linda’s greatest hits that will be on our TikTok strategy.”
In her video, Crawford spoke about how Karan launched more than 30 years ago, which was Crawford’s heyday in the modeling world. At that time, especially in New York, most of the designers were men. “Donna Karan blasted on the scene, and she had such a huge impact. She introduced a new style of power dressing for women which celebrated women and their bodies. It felt like putting on your armor. It made you feel empowered. You felt badass,” said Crawford. She pointed out looks such as the cold shoulder, the statement jewelry and belt. “It would look as good today as it did 30 years ago. No wonder people are trying to find the vintage pieces today,” said Crawford.
“I thought it was so beautiful to have these women tell the story of this brand and how meaningful it is,” said Laird. “It’s not something I can put in copywriting, it’s part of their stories as well.”
Iconic Supermodels Featured in Ad Campaign for Donna Karan New York