Donna Karan is one of those designers whose name just sounds influential when you hear it said out loud — and that’s because she is. But apparently, you can’t get to the upper echelons of the global fashion business without first putting a few people’s lives in danger.
Last week during an interview with Fern Mallis at 92nd Street Y, Karan talked about everything from her life to her work to her relationships — but perhaps the most interesting story she told all night was about the time she almost sold singing legend Barbra Streisand a highly combustible sweater. Karan said she was so excited to meet Streisand and so pleased that Streisand wanted to wear her clothing. But she said one of her sweaters, a wildly popular chenille version, was so dangerous that she couldn’t let the singer have it.
I was at Studio 54, smoking a cigarette, and all of a sudden my sweater went up in flames. And I said, “Oh my God, now what do I do? This is the hottest item that is going on right now.” Barbra only wanted these sweaters, and there was no way she was getting these sweaters. We went back and forth and back and forth, and I told her she couldn’t have them. I’m sorry, I love you. There’s no way. I can see it now: Barbra Streisand Burns Up in Donna Karan Sweater. But when Barbra really wants something….She called me up and said, “Well, give me the yarn supplier. I will make them myself.” That’s how my life with Barbra began.
Karan kept dressing Streisand for years after that near-death experience — she even designed her wedding dress. But we think there’s a pretty clear lesson to be learned here: Streisand gets what Streisand wants.