The people who buy high-end designer pieces are similar to high-end art collectors. Coveting a crocodile Birkin? You're not so different from someone trying to their hands on a David LaChapelle. And like art, fashion tells a story. How a person is dressed tells you a lot about them, and the items in an individual's closet usually hold many memories.
Donna Koffman, a Sarasota socialite, is known for her philanthropy, her bubbly personality and her sparkling smile. She is also known for her great taste in clothes, shoes and accessories. And while that great taste sometimes comes with a hefty price tag, Koffman is far from pretentious. She just likes to dress up. When she’s done enjoying her items, she passes them along by giving them to friends and family or donating them. Here’s a look inside her closet.
As a child, were you into fashion?
"I can’t claim to have known what was fashionable, but I’ve always known what I loved and I liked 'dressing up.'
"My mother would tell you that although I dressed as a girly girl, I played rough like a tomboy. She said she was often tempted to not claim me as her own when she would show up to pick me up from school, since I would be so disheveled by day's end. I was always rough on what I wore and many of my outfits did not survive. I suppose I still have that work hard, play hard mentality about me."
What was the first high-end designer item you ever bought or were given?
"I think the first high-end designer items I owned were purchased by my husband when we were first dating in the early '90s. A lot of what I owned was more conservative, since I needed my wardrobe to be practical and versatile for work and play. He would consistently encourage me to try more playful and funky shoes that I would never have purchased myself.
"I still have one pair that he insisted I get: a pair of Manolo Blahnik stiletto duck boots. Although I have only ever worn them a handful of times, I have held onto them because they were so unique. I'm guessing they would be considered vintage by now."
What do you love about your closet?
"I love the color and the lighting, and the opportunity to basically play dressup each time I walk in there. During season, my weeks can get quite hectic, so a lot of the time I’ll pour a glass of wine over the weekend, go into my closet and just pull everything for the week ahead.
Which item in your closet holds the most memories for you and why?
"I don’t think there’s one single item that stands out more significant than others. I do have some nostalgia pieces I’ve mentioned that were given to me over the years.
"But, as I glance around, I see costumes I wore when I competed in two CANDances, several SPARCC Amazing Raises with my team of girlfriends, Circus Arts Conservatory gala performances and other nonprofit events. Those situations always made me quite nervous, so to look back at the fun outfits I wore and embrace the fact that I challenged myself to do something out of my comfort zone and survived brings a smile to my face."
Which item was hardest for you to get your hands on?
"There was a dress I saw online [the Cuba Embroidery Sequin Dress by For Love & Lemons] that was not available in my size, so I bought it off a designer resale website. Although it was in brand-new shape, I discovered after wearing it on a trip to Vegas that the slip was way too short. I tried on and off to make it wearable and eventually gave up, but kept the dress. One day, I saw a crazy-looking vinyl skirt and top online and had an idea to use part of that to provide coverage in the important areas. So I guess I never got my hands on what I thought I needed but instead created my own unique version of the dress."
Describe your style in five words
"Feminine, whimsical, playful, edgy and polished."
Harrods, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus or Bloomingdale’s?
"Although I would presently say, 'None,' I favored all of them them at different points in time, before online shopping was an option, mainly based on where I lived at the time.
"When I lived in Houston, it was Saks and Neiman’s at the Galleria mall. In Manhattan, we lived right across from Bloomingdale’s, so that was my go-to on a regular basis. I don’t recall ever visiting Harrods in New York City, but shopped there whenever we were in London.
"Today, I’m not loyal to any department store since I do a strong majority of my shopping online. I would say Revolve is probably one of the top websites I shop on. They have some of my favorite brands, such as Alexis, Bronx and Banco, Cinq a Sept, Cult Gaia, For Love & Lemons and House of Harlow 1960."
Who do you look up to when it comes to fashion?
"I do not have any style icons. I have many girlfriends whose personal style I admire, but have never tried to mimic. I’ve always been super independent in that I know exactly what I like and dislike, regardless of other people's opinions and what is currently 'in style.'"
What are some of your favorite items?
"My friends would probably guess that I would say all of my tutus, and are entertained by the fact that I have an entire section of them. Truthfully, though, my favorites shift seasonally and year to year—actually, day to day, as my mood shifts, so I don’t have any consistent favorites."
Who or what got you into fashion?
"I’ve always liked to wear clothes that fit my mood at the moment and that make me happy. I’m a true Gemini in many senses and once saw an article—something like '10 ways you can tell a Gemini by their closet and the way they dress.' If I recall, it stated that we love shopping and fashion, we easily mix high-end with common basic pieces, and the everyday is a costume party for us. I definitely have fun putting outfits together, often mixing and matching the same pieces in new ways. So I can’t give credit to any source of inspiration other than my innate personality as a Gemini."
How do you feel about being called a fashionista?
"It depends on how you you use the term. Most people think of fashionistas as being highly focused on fashion and high-end items—someone who is obsessed with following the latest fashion trends and wears mainly designer clothing. But that’s not me.
"I’m more comfortable with being referred to as stylish and believe a person’s style is unique to them. I like being put-together and polished, but rarely follow what’s current and popular on the runway."
Do you have a favorite clothing designer?
"Alexis: I love the personal style of this mother-daughter team, the fabrics and their modern take on vintage styles.
"Bronx and Banco: edgy, flamboyant and fun, with incredible attention to detail. Pricy but not crazy.
"Cult Gaia: To me, they found a balance between both setting current trends and creating timeless pieces that will remain stylish. Wearing a Cult Gaia item feels like wearing art. Each item seems like a statement piece but is quite versatile.
"For Love & Lemons: adventurous, playful. Often a go-to for lingerie I would layer under clothing that is more open or to add a little flare to an outfit for fun or to add more functional coverage.
"House of Harlow 1960: Nicole Richie's brand. I think they’ve only been around a couple of years. Her items are more 'bohemian chic,' which speaks to my love of vintage clothing."
And your favorite sunglasses designer?
"Gucci or classic Ray-Bans, but I’m pretty rough on everything, so you’ll often see me in inexpensive non-designer glasses since I’ve been known to lose them paddleboarding and boaring."
What about a favorite shoe designer?
"I love my Christian Louboutin, of course, but also a lesser-known brand Dsquared2 and Betsy Johnson—her designs are so fun and over-the-top. Even though it's one of the most affordable and common brands I wear, I consistently get so many compliments on her shoes and accessories."
What was your first designer handbag?
"My mother-in-law Ruthanne gifted me with a beautiful Judith Leiber handbag about 25 years ago, before cell phones were a staple. I still have it, though it’s not as practical size-wise, but I will keep it until I pass it down since it’s so artistic."
Where do you go in Sarasota to wear your clothes and shoes?
"Between being on several boards and chairing or co-chairing, sponsoring and supporting many nonprofits, I am attending events very frequently. Add on celebrating birthdays and special occasion gatherings, and there is never a shortage of reasons to dress up in Sarasota."