SHE is bold and brassy, outspoken yet philosophical, and she cares as much about AIDS patients as she does about hem-lines. Donna Karan admitted she was not a typical designer. She did not create clothes to conform with the whims of the fashion world, nor did she follow trends set by other designers. She did not set her mind to designing - it was something that happened, she said. The award-winning designer was in Hongkong last week after a four-year absence to see the Donna Karan boutique - under the Joyce umbrella - at The Regent hotel. It is also her first freestanding boutique in the world. The native New Yorker, dubbed the Queen of Seventh Avenue, sat relaxed in her suite at The Peninsula hotel, surrounded by her advisers: Mr Stephen Ruzow, president and chief operating officer of the Donna Karan Company, her publicity aide Ms Patti Cohen and local fashion doyenne Mrs Joyce Ma - herself dressed head-to-toe in Karan. ''There is an understanding here,'' said Karan, motioning to Mrs Ma: the two have known one another for a decade. ''We want to do something, and Joyce makes it happen. When something gets taken out of your hands, you need special people to take care of it. Donna Karan New York was an international company, and all of a sudden there was Joyce.'' The Joyce group is taking the Karan brand to Taiwan, and there is some talk of secondary label DKNY making its entry into China. But that is still in the future. For now, Karan is doing what she does best: designing clothes for women of all shapes, sizes and ages. ''It is very personalised stuff: comfortable, sensual, emotional, fundamental and simple. It's not about my clothes, it's about how you feel when you wear them. It's not about rules and regulations, and there is no set pattern. There is no reason why I do it, but I know I needed to plug in holes if I needed something and couldn't find it.'' That explained why Karan launched her menswear line in 1991, seven years after the hugely successful beginning of her women's label. Her husband, sculptor Stephan Weiss, needed something specific, and because neither of them could find it, she made it instead. The same applied to her more recent children's line. ''I don't see it as a gender thing. I guess for men it is more difficult to know what they want. I wear my clothes so I know what they are like.'' Since 1985, Karan has built a US$270 million (HK$2.1 billion) business that should reach the US$400 million mark by next year. Even in a recession-hit United States market, sales continued to increase steadily and the Karan label was still sought by top department stores. It is a keenly competitive market, but Karan said she admired anybody who was able to succeed. ''I think Giorgio Armani is brilliant, and so are Romeo Gigli, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. [Fashion] is still the toughest field to succeed in, to have continuity and consistency of product and to succeed despite the flirtatiousness of the economic situation. ''There are so many elements in trying to please the buyers, the press, the consumer and your ego, and everybody wants something different. But you just have to get down and do it, and never look back,'' she said. Karan said her lines included something for everyone - at a price. The main line was more exclusive, while DKNY was lower in price but certainly not cheap. ''There are certain things you like to keep more private and exclusive, like the main collection, while DKNY is more about the spirit of life. But while they are all about me, they also become anything the wearer wants them to be. You don't need to have a specific look to wear them, because they become a personal thing,'' she said. The likes of US First Lady Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton and long-time friend Barbra Streisand have discovered that. When Candice Bergen, of Murphy Brown fame, accepted an Emmy award wearing a typical Karan ''cold shoulder'' bodysuit, she was fast on her way to becoming a designer to the stars. She said it was not something she set out to do - although the prestige did not hurt. ''I look at it as helping some very busy women make their lives easier. I can understand the difficulties of being in that position, of being out there in front, and if I can make it easier for them then I have done a service. If they're happy, I am happy,'' said Karan. She virtually revolutionised daywear by popularising the bodysuit, a garment she said ''made perfect fashion sense''. But now everybody is doing them, and while Karan has little control over this, infringement upsets her. ''The cold shoulder thing got killed with that kind of exposure. Everybody wants to feel they are wearing something special,'' she said. Mr Ruzow attributed the steady success of the company to the fact the clothes were ''sensible'' and withstood the vagaries of fashion. ''I'm doing the same navy blue now as I did six years ago. We're not re-inventing the wheel. We're just doing what works,'' said Karan. Growing up in the 1970s helped shape her fashion ideals. ''I am a product of the '70s, and I don't think I will ever lose that. My clothes are about the earth and about being natural. In the '80s there was power dressing but I felt much more comfortable doing natural clothes. It was easier for me. It is hard when fashion goes into the tradition of opulence and material considerations take over from design. Then you know something is wrong,'' she said. But Karan does have an altruistic side: an AIDS benefit she helped organise in New York last year raised US$4.5 million in three days. ''My mission in life is to contribute and to help other people. People respond to me through my fashion, and I can use that to help others.'' The success of the benefit - essentially a sale of designer clothing at near basement prices - was so successful a group of designers have decided to open a permanent shop to do just that. Seventh on Sale, a high-fashion thrift shop, opens next April. The announcement provoked a smile from Mrs Ma, who had a glimmer of an idea. ''Shall we do one of those in Hongkong?'' she said. Models: Lisa B and David through Calcarrie's. Venue: Banyan trees in Sports Road, Happy Valley.