DKNY and Lessons in Authenticity

4 Min Read
Abena Gyebi

Donna Karan Turns to Real People for Her DKNY Show

Donna Karen can teach brands a thing or two about authenticity and connecting with consumers.

For her 25th Anniversary DKNY runway show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week on Sunday, Karen cast an assortment of non-models (along with regular models) to present her collection. Among them were cross-section of New York’s creative work force–a DJ, a TV presenter, a printmaker, a few students, a biologist, a “night life hostess,” and a tattoo artist/pro skateboarder. (Where was I during casting!?).  When AP asked why she decided to use non professional models,  Karen responded, “DKNY really is about the streets. It’s about the streets of New York, the energy of New York, the people of New York.”

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Donna Karan Turns to Real People for Her DKNY Show

Honestly, as a consumer I found it refreshing to see non-models (albeit, the most model-looking non-models I’ve ever seen) presenting a RTW collection–we’re the ones who are going to be wearing the clothes after all. And as a native New Yorker, I appreciated the short film that started the show, introduced us to the models and told us about their NYC neighborhoods and their individual journeys to New York. Donna Karen packed a  whole lot of realness into one 15 minute show.

What Consumers Want - Ted Talks

That said, this could have gone badly if anyone else tried it. New Yorkers (and consumers in general) have a sixth sense for sniffing out phonies. Authenticity is the criteria by which consumers decide who they are going to buy from and what they’re going to buy. It’s therefore incredibly important that every business decision, every development or design decision, every social media decision, every marketing decision brands make come from a genuine place.

In other words, it’s authenticity that resonates with customers. Authenticity determines what’s cool and what isn’t.

Take, Villa for example. Villa is a urban apparel and footwear retailer that really knows the urban community because their employees and key stakeholders are part of the urban community. So, when Villa makes decisions–like having a cool slide-out shopping cart on its ecommerce site so customers can compare items side by side to ensure they’ll match, or having a “Villa Dollars” system where customers can crowd source and save little by little towards towards a key item–it feels authentic because it comes from a real understanding of the customer’s shopping concerns. They’re not just doing it because they think it’s cool.

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Villa Ecommerce Site

Similarly, Bonobos is a menswear brand that’s all about simplicity, being yourself, and finding the right fit. Not surprisingly, their social media takes a quirky and humorous tone that 100% feels like they’re just being themselves. And as a result, you can’t help but think they’re cool.

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Bonobos Social Media

Bonobos Social Media

All in all, for brands and retailers, it matters why you do things. Customers need to feel like your decisions make sense and are authentically consumer-centric in order for them to accept them as cool. The entire DKNY Fall 2014 presentation was cool. And that’s because it was authentically New York.

Photos via the Cut/Imaxtree, YouTube, Instagram/Bonobos, YahooNews/Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

For more of Corra’s Fashion Week blogs:

Saks Fifth Avenue and the Game of Shopping for Fashion   Daisy Marc Jacobs at Pop-Up Tweet Shop in SoHo   The Democratization of Fashion   Karen Walker Eyewear - Visible Donna Karen’s Non-Models and Lessons in Authenticity   Intel...Inside of Fashion?   day7

Abena Gyebi


Corra is the global digital agency that lifestyle brands trust to accelerate their growth. Working at the intersection of commerce technology and customer experience strategy, we deliver complex digital solutions to leading B2C and B2B retailers.

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