Donna Karan on the New DKNY, the Crisis in Haiti, and Urban Zen’s Big Success

by Ashley Baker

Donna Karan has stepped down from her eponymous house, but she remains more relevant than ever thanks to Urban Zen, her lifestyle brand that uses modern luxury fashion to support a foundation that aims to preserve culture, offer integrative healthcare experiences, and support education. It’s been a big year for the brand—in addition to its boutiques in NYC’s West Village, Sag Harbor, Manhassett, and Aspen, Urban Zen has opened a shop-in-shop at Bergdorf Goodman. She hit Los Angeles to toast the opening of the brand’s latest outpost. Located at 9045 Nemo Street in West Hollywood, it nods to Southern California’s indoor/outdoor lifestyle, and features a garden as well as a kitchen that serves healthy beverages and salads. Karan explains:

Donna, why did you pick West Hollywood for your first Urban Zen outpost on the West Coast?

We’ve always wanted a permanent home in LA, but it had to be the right spot. We found it, and it happens to be in West Hollywood. This store is everything I’ve ever wanted—open, light-filled, it has gardens, trees, a parking lot. I love that it’s off the beaten path and therefore a bit mysterious. We have a lot of space here, and even have a kitchen. It’s like the top floor of my Urban Zen NYC store in the Village—everyone is asking why I don’t move in. It’s that perfect, that me.

How does the store compare with its counterparts in New York City, Manhassett, Aspen, and Sag Harbor?
To be honest, it’s my favorite store of all. It’s everything I’ve dreamed about in one place. I love LA—there’s so much for me to do here. My friends, the great weather, the outdoor living. And I love that I’m near UCLA, which has our UZIT program.

How have you implemented the “buy now, wear now” philosophy into Urban Zen?
We’ve had the buy now, wear now idea in action from the beginning. That was, in part, the reason I opened Urban Zen. To find calm in the chaos of fashion. I’ve always thought clothes should only be shown when you can actually buy them. Especially when you had the Internet showing the consumer fashion shows with clothes they couldn’t buy for months. It made no sense and wasn’t addressing a woman’s real-life needs.

What’s the latest with the Urban Zen Foundation? What’s happening with your projects in Haiti?
The Urban Zen Foundation is busier than ever. Our UZIT program is thriving and has expanded into several major medical care facilities throughout the country. As you know, I’m consumed with all things Haiti. Recently, we’ve been actively involved with the emergency relief efforts for Haiti after the catastrophic Hurricane Matthew. We’ve worked to raise funds and organize countless barges of food and supplies to be distributed throughout the country. Fortunately, the location of our vocational school D.O.T. [Design Organization Training Center] wasn’t hit by the hurricane, so it’s still operating at capacity. As part of our commitment to help Haiti help itself, we have been marketing and promoting Naturally Haiti, our initiative of Haitian artisan crafts. We’re also involved with Nomad Two Worlds with my friend the photographer Russell James, which supports indigenous cultures through art and mix media. We just hosted a silent auction fundraiser in Houston. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that I want to do!

And because we’re The Daily, we’re going off-topic: What are you reading these days?
My emails and texts. I don’t have time for anything else.

What’s your favorite meal at this particular moment?
Soup, green vegetables, and avocado on wheat-free bread.

And will you give us your thoughts on what’s happening with DKNY?
DKNY is moving into its next dimension, whatever shape it takes. DKNY will always be a New York born-and-bred brand; that is the essence of what the name stands for. My heart will always be with DKNY, and I wish it the best.

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