The designer discusses her Urban Zen line and effecting change
It’s not just that Donna Karan is a fashion icon known for her signature brand of bodysuit dressing and figure-flattering separates. She is an icon with a cause – several in fact. She’s raised money for AIDS education and the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and has worked with the Not One More gun safety campaign and Clinton Global Initiative. In 2007 she founded the Urban Zen Foundation with the goals of preserving culture, advancing wellness and empowering children. We met with Karan at the expansive and gorgeously sited A’maree’s, a Newport Beach destination for haute couture. Karan has partnered with the boutique to showcase the Urban Zen marketplace of ready-to-wear clothing and accessories, including goods made by Haitian artisans, and strikingly regal, handmade Balinese furniture. A portion of the sales benefits the Urban Zen Foundation.
Coast: From my understanding the idea for Urban Zen was born after the passing of your husband, Stephan Weiss, in 2001.
DK: Urban Zen is about dressing and addressing the consumer, making her aware of what is happening in the world today and saying, “How can I help make a difference in the world?” I call it conscious consumerism. My husband had lung cancer, my girlfriend had breast cancer, my other girlfriend had brain cancer. It was all around me. My boss, Anne Klein, died of breast cancer. I was affected by that process for so many years, and I felt what was missing in the medical system is who was taking care of the patient? Everyone was taking care of the disease. One day I had this flash that went right through me, a vision, and I saw a place for people to come together to create change in the world and to call it Urban Zen. A space where we would do exhibitions and lectures, and create communities of consciousness and change.
Coast: Urban Zen marketplace goods are, in part, about creating sustainable economies, yes?
DK: Urban Zen has three prongs: preservation of culture, integrated health care and integrated education – past, present and future. Bringing the mind, body and spirit from the culture to all of the platforms. In Haiti, their artisans’ abilities are fantastic. I want to vocationally train artisans to go to the next level.
Coast: When it comes to holistic health, how do you think the things you choose to surround you can actually give a sense of well-being – be it furniture, clothes etc.?
DK: I think the whole concept of Urban Zen is where do you find the calm in the chaos we live today? I realized the way to do that is creating communities of consciousness and change. We do these conferences on health care, education and culture. I’ve had Dalai Lama at the Urban Zen. So, it’s really been an amazing space where it’s not only about inspiration, but action.
Coast: Where do you see Urban Zen going?
DK: My dream is to inspire people to open up Urban Zen centers in every community … I mean dreams come true. So you put it out into the ether and God only knows what happens.
949.642.4423 :: amarees.com :: urbanzen.com
Urban Zen’s ready to wear-line Elements by Donna Karan is available at A’maree’s in Newport Beach.