When designer Donna Karan and LVMH, the luxury goods conglomerate that bought her brand in 2001, publicly parted ways earlier this week, there were signs of bad blood. LVMH had closed her namesake flagship store in Manhattan, added new designers to the DKNY clothing line, and, adding insult to injury, "suspended" her main clothing line. In terms of design, it was an effective attempt to unmake her name and cast her into obscurity.

There were signs last year that things were not well in the business. Longtime customer Bloomingdale's dropped her top clothing line, keeping the secondary DKNY label, and Karan was publicly critical of LVMH and a lack of support. But no matter what LVMH does at this point, it is impossible to eradicate what Karan achieved and the leadership she showed, becoming one of the few women to head a fashion company. Here are some things to learn from her.

Be authentic

Leaders have to connect with others and inspire them to help achieve a goal. But that is difficult if you don't connect to your most authentic self and honestly express who you are. As Donna Karan said, as quoted on her company's site: "Everything I do is a matter of heart, body and soul. For me, designing is an expression of who I am as a woman, with all the complications, feelings and emotions." It isn't neat and tidy, like something manufactured. But truly being yourself and following your passion--which really means doing what you feel driven to do, even when the exciting feelings aren't there--provides the power to keep going.

Have a vision

Karan made her name by remaking how women looked at fashion. Her Seven Easy Pieces collection was a "modular wardrobe, with versatile pieces that included a simple bodysuit and a classic white shirt," says New York magazine. That was a radical departure from previous approaches, and it struck such a strong chord among consumers that it propelled Karan into massive success. Even if your vision may not draw in the entire world, you'll find your audience.

Take on the world when you think you should

Too many who aspire to doing something great are worried about doing or saying the wrong thing. And, as Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel proved, you can stick your feet so far into your mouth that you don't leave a leg to stand on. But short of going off the deep end, speak out. In 1992, Karan ran an ad campaign that showed a woman running for, and ultimately winning, the presidency. "I'm not trying to elevate women at the expense of men but to say that a woman could go for it," she told New York.

Published on: Jul 2, 2015
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