Last week, fashion designer Donna Karan suggested, in a red carpet interview about her associate Harvey Weinstein, that women are asking to be sexually harassed based on the way they dress. In the interview, which was caught on tape, she said among other things, “What are they asking for? Trouble.”
The condemnation was swift, from people pointing out her apparent hypocrisy (she is a longtime advocate for women’s issues; she has designed and shown sexualized clothing and advertisements) to stocks tanking for G-III, the corporation that owns her namesake brand. (Karan stepped down from Donna Karan and DKNY in 2015.) In an official statement released on Tuesday, Karan said that her interview had been “taken out of context”:
My statements were taken out of context and do not represent how I feel about the current situation concerning Harvey Weinstein. I believe that sexual harassment is NOT acceptable and this is an issue that MUST be addressed once and for all regardless of the individual. I am truly sorry to anyone that I offended and everyone that has ever been a victim.
Today, WWD has run a lengthy interview with Karan by Bridget Foley, the publication’s executive editor. In it, an “embarrassed” Karan apologized profusely multiple times for what she said, but also blamed her comments on being tired and jet-lagged.
Karan told Foley that, when she was asked about the accusations against Weinstein—her friend, along with his wife/Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman—she didn’t know about the extent of the stories, saying at that point she had only “heard them in such bits and cracked pieces.”
D.K.: So the fact of what I said was — it was inappropriate and I just went off. And I shouldn’t have done it. I was exhausted, I was tired and — [when] it came back to me, I was shocked that I even said this myself. Because I was preparing in my mind what I was going to say in the theater. And I just went off on something that I shouldn’t have, and I apologize profusely. I regret it so strongly.
I think every woman who knows me, and I have [worked for] them in all sizes and all shapes, all I do is want women being free to express themselves. And that has nothing to do with being disrespected, molested and harassed. Absolutely not.
Foley admirably presses Karan on her contradictions and refuses to let the narrative shift, particularly the couple times when Karan brings up her “work in Haiti” and efforts for more gun control. Foley also asked Karan to explain herself multiple times, and to reckon with the way her comments reflected on her history as a designer and a woman’s advocate:
...I always have had real women presenting themselves because I feel so strongly about women. No matter what size you are, no matter what body type you have, as a woman, I have believed in women. I can’t fit in the clothes today. I dress myself and [other] women and allow them to be sensual.
WWD: When you say you can’t fit the clothes today, do you mean the clothes of other designers that are largely out there across fashion?
WWD: For the record, you would agree that no matter what you or I or a hot 20-year-old wears, no one has the right to harass any woman at any time?
D.K.: With. Out. A. Doubt. Without a doubt. For that matter, it is never OK to disrespect another human being.
And don’t forget the work I do in Haiti. The woman that I had giving me the award, Maria Bello, I mean, her major, major statement in life is about women.
There’s a lot more, and personally it left me feeling a bit warm, a bit cold; it’s very clear that Karan is contrite, but being tired doesn’t necessarily square with just dropping some victim-blaming comments out of the blue. However, when “she was asking for it” is the going justification—the most prevalent ethos of the rape culture, really—I suppose it’s possible that someone’s subconscious can have absorbed it enough to repeat that phrase with a robotic lack of thought. And Foley seems to believe that Karan is sincere in her apology, which is indeed profuse and seems to be coming from a good place. Either way, though, it seems fairly likely that we won’t see any Donna Karan on the carpet during Oscars season.
Read a partial interview here and, with a subscription, the full one here.