Envelope Fail: Vogue 2893 by Donna Karan

Erin Wasson photographed by Peter Lindbergh - Donna Karan Spring 2005 advertising campaign
Donna Karan Spring 2005 ad campaign. Model: Erin Wasson. Photo: Peter Lindbergh.

When I first started collecting sewing patterns, Naomi was baffled. She couldn’t understand my interest when the styling on modern pattern envelopes was bland or worse. This new, occasional series looks at designer patterns that fail to convey the strengths of the original—not as an end in itself, but in the hope of provoking reflection and discussion of the frequent disparity between designer fashion and the licensed versions offered to home sewers.

(You can see an earlier discussion in the comments on my Alber Elbaz post.)

Launching the series is Vogue 2893, a top and skirt pattern by Donna Karan from 2006. The off-the-shoulder, back-laced ensemble is drawn from Karan’s Spring/Summer 2005 collection, and was the centrepiece of the Peter Lindbergh advertising campaign starring Erin Wasson.

Erin Wasson photographed by Peter Lindbergh - Donna Karan Spring 2005 advertising campaign
Donna Karan Spring 2005 ad campaign. Model: Erin Wasson. Photo: Peter Lindbergh.

The look was even chosen to open the Spring 2005 runway presentation. The second photo shows the top’s contrast mesh inserts, elasticized shoulders, and decorative zigzag stitching detail:

Gemma Ward - Donna Karan Spring 2005 collection
Model: Gemma Ward. Photo: Marcio Madeira. Image: style.com.
Detail - Gemma Ward, Donna Karan Spring 2005 collection
Model: Gemma Ward. Image: style.com.

Now consider the pattern envelope:

Donna Karan off-the-shoulder top and skirt pattern - Vogue 2893
Vogue 2893 by Donna Karan (2006) Top and skirt.
Technical drawing for Vogue 2893
Technical drawing for Vogue 2893

The envelope replaces the original’s bared shoulders, open back, and slight flare at the hips with a much higher décolletage and tightly laced back. The result is a more covered-up, middle-of-the-road, body-con look that lacks the original’s confidence and wit.

What do you think? Did Vogue Patterns assume the original styling wouldn’t appeal to their customers?

9 thoughts on “Envelope Fail: Vogue 2893 by Donna Karan

  1. that’s too bad! maybe that pattern is also just the retail version of the top?

  2. Wow! This is very interesting. Of course the runway version is so dramatic, and the model looks so vulnerable and somehow captured or encased in the corset. But the envelope photograph verges on dowdy. She looks like she is off to work and the lovely laced up back picture is shaded as if it is somewhat indecent.

    Thank you for another illuminating post Sarah.

  3. I think you’re absolutely right in pointing out the disparity between the runway look and the pattern envelope. The envelope really does a disservice to the design, kind of “dumbing it down”- which I think doesn’t help patterns sell! I want to see the possibilities- not the most bland version that could be made!

  4. Is it not possible to pull the sleeve down a bit for more off-the-shoulder look? Looks elasticated at the top of the sleeve. And was the original on runway also more open? I could imagine the top photo has the back more open to accommodate the model’s more hunched back pose. I think editorial photos are a bit unreliable as indicator of what the garment look like in real life, what with the tricks that stylists get up to! 🙂

    I have to agree many a designer patterns in recent decades look not so appetizing as the runway or editorial. It does make me wonder though whether it’s the model & styling that make all the difference. So try as we may, even the designer original will look dowdy on an average woman without a team of fashion professionals at hand.

    I’m not a fan of catalog style photos. But most pattern brands seem to stick to that. Maybe it’s cheaper to produce. Maybe that’s why I’m buying more Burda pattern magazines nowadays than envelop patterns. The editorial style photos double as fashion magazine, even if their patterns are no more creative or alluring than Vogue’s. What I really would love is editorial inspiration photo(s) + mug shots (to guide fitting alterations) + tech drawings.

  5. Yes it used to be that Vogue patterns were very much like the designers’ clothes on the runway – not anymore. I cannot see how anyone – no matter how talented a sewist – could make this flattering on a female human; the professional model looks quite dreadful…. Why bother to even put DK’s name on it? Do what Simplicity does for their “Project Runway” line: just add “inspired by” & then only the truly foolish will think they are getting a real designer’s pattern.

  6. ‘The Sartorial Coquette’ makes an interesting point, that the version on the pattern envelope could be the retail version. I’ve read somewhere before that there can often be a difference between runway and retail versions, particularly when it comes to the hem length on skirts and dresses, which can often be shown shorter on the runway.
    Anyhow, with the sleeves cut higher on the shoulder the top does lose its glamorous special-occasion appeal and becomes a strange off-to-work ensemble with inappropriate evening wear details. I think with a different choice of fabric the outfit could look like more of an evening or cocktail outfit – particularly made from a black fabric which would also make the mesh inserts stand out more, but I think that the pattern would still need to be altered to achieve the off-the-shoulder sleeves to look any good, and altering patterns can be a pain!

  7. I guess I’ll be the only one with a dissenting opinion. I too like the runway version 100 x over, but I completely understand why the modifications. I am subscribed to several blogs that review patterns and the mockery over any pattern that is not the most wearable is ubiquitous. I can almost here the criticism now about the runway version “what office would allow any woman to show her back like that” even nobody said this is office wear. I’ve actually come out in defense repeatedly over the designs uniqueness expressing that’s what you’d want in a designer item, but I’m afraid companies will be concerned about their bottom dollar. The plus these modifications are extremely easy to reverse. Really, I promise.

  8. I agree with Sartorial Coquette. This is not just styled differently. It’s a different garment, similar to the runway/editorial garment. The back has a v-shaped opening, like a cutout, on the runway. There is no way you could lace it up tightly. But there is no cutout in the back in the sewing pattern. It meant to be worn closed. And the neckline on the pattern is more like a portrait neckline instead of a true off-the-shoulder top. I have this pattern and I ripped the ad (with the photo showing the outfit from the back) out of Vogue at the time. Then I hesitated to make it because I have such narrow shoulders compared to the rest of my body, I’m dreading the alterations for this one. I usually avoid portrait neckline and off-the-shoulder tops completely in RTW because they just fall down.

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