Searching for (and finding) Donna

I recently had a reunion with Donna Karan at the New York Cottages & Gardens Innovation In Design Awards at the Rainbow Room. I received the Readers’ Choice Award  for the Cate Clustering Cocktail Tables designed for Vanguard Furniture, and Donna was honored as the Innovator of the 2017 NYC&G IDAS.  It was especially meaningful to share the honors with her, since we have a long history together.

My first job in New York was at Wayne Berg Architect. We were a firm of three, and we worked on some very high profile projects. Some were contract, like the Anne Klein showroom, Bill Blass showroom and various stores and offices. We also designed some  exclusive residential projects, like the apartment of Salomon Brothers CEO, John Gutfreund and his wife, Susan at River House.

Since it was a small office, we each did everything: design, draw, make models, meet the clients, and make site visits. It was a lot of responsibility for someone of 24, but I loved it and I learned a huge amount about every aspect of being an architect.

The Anne Klein showroom was especially fun to design. Donna Karan and Louis dell’Olio were the young designers who inherited the mantel when Anne passed away, and they wanted to give the showroom a whole new look.

Donna Karan, Louis dell’Olio, and Wayne Berg

We used natural materials to create a neutral background for the clothes. The space was bisected by a travertine wall that created an entry foyer and a showroom space to host buyers. The materials were stone, suede, leather, and the wall finishes were sprayed to look like stone.

All the walls were wrapped with lacquered rails that added a sense of scale and were used to hang clothes for display.

A pavilion displays accessories along with the clothes.

Donna went on to the conquer the couture world with her own brand, Donna Karan. Louis has consulted for many companies.

In the next few years, I went on to work for Robert AM Stern and then opened my own firm. I remained friendly with Wayne, who was one of the most important mentors in my life – for many years, we had a regular lunch date and shared ideas about the future of design. Unfortunately, Wayne Berg passed away at the early age of 52. He was one of the kindest, most talented men I have ever known.

Collaborating with Wayne and Donna was stimulating, surprising, and rewarding. We shared ideas about design and about life. I often think about the mind-meld we all had on this project, and how lucky I was to work with both of them.


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