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Donna Karan wasn’t asking for trouble, but she got it

Donna Karan wasn’t asking for trouble, but she got it
[Photo: David Shankbone/Wikipedia]

As we’ve seen over the last year, Twitter-fueled boycotts can have a big impact. When the tape of Donald Trump bragging about assaulting women came to light, consumers responded by joining the massive #GrabYourWallet campaign, which resulted in dozens of retailers dropping Trump-branded products.

We’re now seeing a similar playbook unfold with Donna Karan. Last Sunday, when asked about a torrent of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, she told a reporter that “we have to look at ourselves” as women. She quickly apologized, but since the comments, consumers have been calling for a boycott of Donna Karan and DKNY brands across social media, asking Nordstrom and Macy’s to drop her lines. An online petition has already garnered nearly 8,000 signatures.

But Karan herself is not affiliated with these brands anymore. The licenses are now owned by G-III, which just happens to be the same company that owns Ivanka Trump’s clothing brand.

All of this came about when Donna Karan spoke to a reporter on the red carpet at the CineFashion Film Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday. When asked about the allegations that Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed–and possibly raped–women for decades, she responded, with a broad smile.

“I think we have to look at ourselves. Obviously, the treatment of women all over the world is something that has always had to be identified. Certainly in the country of Haiti where I work, in Africa, in the developing world, it’s been a hard time for women. To see it here in our own country is very difficult, but I also think how do we display ourselves? How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality? And what are we throwing out to our children today about how to dance and how to perform and what to wear? How much should they show?”

Karan, who told the reporter she knows Weinstein’s wife Georgina Chapman, was asked whether Hollywood has been “busted,” she replied with a smile, “I don’t think it’s only Harvey Weinstein.”

To be clear, Karan was accusing Weinstein’s victims of inviting sexual assault partly through their wardrobe choices. It’s a form of victim-blaming that happens around the world every day. In some parts of India, it’s practically state policy: One local police chief told the press in 2012, “Fashionable dresses worn by women, even in rural areas, are among the factors leading to an increase in rape cases.”

Still, it was particularly shocking hearing these statements from a well-known figure in fashion, an industry known for its liberal politics and support of women’s rights. It’s also ironic, because Karan has spent her career dressing women and thinking about how we “display ourselves.” Often, the garments she created were specifically designed to project “sensuality.” After social media erupted with vitriol toward Karan, the designer released a statement apologizing and saying her words were taken out of context, but that’s a shaky claim given that the whole episode was captured on video.

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