By Amanda Rae | May 22, 2015 | Style & Beauty
Through her Urban Zen initiative, fashion icon Donna Karan exemplifies the Aspen ideal.
An Aspen idealist: The mission of Urban Zen, says Donna Karan, is “to bring mind, body, and spirit into healthcare and education.”
On a sunny spring afternoon, Donna Karan gazes out toward the pedestrian corridor alongside the Residences at The Little Nell and laments that a fête-filled weekend precluded a gondola ride up Aspen Mountain, where she had learned to ski as a girl. The 66-year-old fashion designer is looking out from Urban Zen, the seasonal pop-up of her holistic lifestyle boutiques in New York City and Sag Harbor, in the Hamptons, and for a moment she is lost in thought. In an instant, however, Karan—dressed in gray suede pants and a black cashmere cardigan that exemplifies her legendary knack for draping—snaps to attention. A young woman has stepped from the fitting room in a dramatic black shearling coat.
“Divine!” Karan exclaims. “Let me see the necklace.” The unsuspecting model twirls toward Karan, who pauses a beat—clearly, something is missing. “Why don’t we just put a little black top on? The necklace is a must.”
Lauded as one of the most iconic designers in the world, Karan—for years the lone female keeping pace with industry giants including Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren—has built a name for herself by finding the void in fashion and filling it. A protégé of Anne Klein (no relation to Calvin), she launched her namesake brand, Donna Karan, in 1985, followed four years later by a more affordable line, DKNY, focused on essential luxury for the modern woman. In 2008, boasting numerous awards, including the 2004 Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the ofthailed “queen of Seventh Avenue” launched the Urban Zen Foundation. The nonprofit collaborates with artisans in Haiti and elsewhere to create sophisticated, wear-everywhere clothing and posh home furnishings that benefit the greater good.
Karan’s new Harmony collection, available at Urban Zen, is a silhouette-forward study in tones.
“The Urban Zen mission is to dress and address,” Karan says, “to bring mind, body, and spirit into healthcare and education.” By combining Western medicine with Eastern healing techniques, the Urban Zen Foundation aims to improve treatment experiences for cancer patients and families of survivors in less fortunate parts of the world. Preserving culture though craftsmanship is a driving force.
“You come in here and you feel the artisan touch—whether it be from candles to furniture to art objects, objects of desire,” Karan says, adding that a portion of sales benefits the Urban Zen Foundation’s healthcare and vocational-educational programs in Haiti, as well as its integrative therapist-training program in New York. “For me, the magic is being able to employ, develop, and grow with the artisans.”
Karan’s spring visit, not to mention Urban Zen’s reception, was such a success that “Aspen is absolutely next on our store plan,” the designer says. A long, contemplative walk with photographer Russell James was so enthralling that the pair ended up lost and knee-deep in snow. “Nature has always been my inspiration. The whites and pale grays, the storminess of the trees and snow—that was for Aspen,” Karan says of a recent collection, which includes seamless, tubular knits exclusive to the brand. “Urban Zen [is] a store where you can buy, immediately”—referring to Urban Zen’s in-season selling, as opposed to the preseason scheduling of most fashion houses—“something that will connect with your heart, a luxury that will last forever.”
To do that, Karan seeks to engage customers beyond retail therapy, an inclination that resulted in the pop-up’s popular weekly meditation series. Indeed, her vision of Aspen’s stand-alone boutique features an adjoining yoga studio.
“Urban Zen fits here perfectly because of what this city stands for: community, consciousness, and change,” Karan says, citing The Aspen Institute as a model of innovation. “Aspen is most certainly an iconic ski town, and I credit that to the people who live [here] even more than to its natural beauty.” The Residences at The Little Nell, 501 E. Dean St., 970-710-2961
photography By raNDaLL SLaVIN; courtesy of urban zen