Donna Karan On Her Travel Plans, Love Affair With Scarves, And Urban Zen Marketplace

by The Daily Front Row

(NEW YORK) The perfect holiday treat just might be a dose of Donna Karan, in the form of her Urban Zen Marketplace. Brimming with gift-apropos goods of very wearable and décor-ready iterations, there’s plenty of tactile bliss to be had exploring Karan’s globally curated assortment, on offer through December 31. (Check out Karan’s treasure trove of finds in our Gallery.) The Daily popped in recently to mosey around—and discuss yoga for skeptics, why Tibet’s on her to-do list, and the wonders of scarves with Karan.

What’s the gist of your Urban Zen Marketplace?
It’s important to me to put out to the public a soulful economy of conscious consumers—it’s about acknowledging the artists in the developing world, and recognizing how brilliant they really are. People think Haiti is a disaster—then they see that these pieces made in Haiti, and they can’t believe it. There are items made from tobacco leaves, recycled cereal boxes, paper mache, recycled T shirt bags…

Where else did you procure your Urban Zen goods?
Well, let me take you on a journey to see everything! We have everything from beautiful rugs made in India to pillows made in Africa. There are different essential oils of health and healing.  I have a section for pieces by artisans from India. When I was in India, I saw this guy that was wearing a scarf and I was like oh my God, where did you get that scarf? He told me that if I went with him he would take me to where they were made. So, I did!

Sounds like quite the exotic treasure hunt. Did you cull inspiration from any specific place?
Bali was really my inspiration for everything. Plus, it’s where all of my furniture at Urban Zen is made.

Why Bali?
Bali preserves their culture, which inspired me. As a designer, I’m dying to preserve culture. We have to respect the cultures! Holistically, Bali is the model for the entire world. The Green School made of bamboo that John Hardy started is in Bali is exactly what they need in Haiti.

You’re quite the globetrotter!  What’s on your must-visit list?
I want to go to Tibet; I haven’t been yet.

Anywhere else you have yet to explore?
Believe it or not, I’ve never been to South America! I really want to concentrate on that. I’ll be going there in 2014, maybe to Brazil.

Since you’re such a travel savant, got any good tricks for adventuring?
Backpacks! I never go anywhere without my backpack and my belt bag. Then, I have my hands free to do everything I need to do. I need free hands. And I always have a scarf. I developed a new scarf that’s to die over.

What kind of scarf?
It’s filled with down, so you can use it as a pillow, a wrap…anything, really. If I never design another thing, at least I’ve designed that. I am a scarf freak, and this one is like, “feel me, touch me, live with me!”

Ever the wrap star, Donna. So, what kind of gift buyer are you?
Well, this is it: the Urban Zen marketplace is filled with gifts I’m going to give everyone else. This place is an obsession with mine. I want everyone to buy everything at Urban Zen so I can go buy more!

How do you keep your zen during this season?
Breathing and yoga! I’ve been practicing yoga since I was 18. Yoga is how my whole idea of Urban Zen started—not only that, but the Donna Karan bodysuit started because I was practicing yoga. It’s all about wrapping, tying, and stretching, which is all of a yoga mind, with the tights and leotards and all.

How much are you doing yoga nowadays?
For me, yoga is being. That’s what Urban Zen is about: bringing your mind, body, and spirit on a mission to healthcare, education and the preservation of culture.

Have you ever converted any yoga skeptics?
Oh God, yes! I just did a conference in Switzerland, and I put everyone into meditation. When I was in Haiti, I don’t speak the language, but I was doing yoga with kids there, and the next thing I knew, they were in total meditative states. It was the most beautiful thing.

How do you coax the downward dog-averse to try it out?
Yoga isn’t about putting your legs around your head. It’s about being, breath work, and a way of life. People don’t realize that you can do it at work or anywhere.

Do you do yoga at work?
Yes. It’s easy: I just have to be conscious, I take a breath, and that’s yoga. 

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