Going beyond clothing
Donna Karan’s Urban Zen includes pieces to be worn year-round. But the project is grander than a fashion line – it is a broader approach to life that she hopes will speak to many people. (photo from fashionmodeldirectory.com)
With the sun finally out for days running, spring has truly sprung. We can now satisfy the urge to take out our colours from the back of our closets. That bright pink silk blouse in its garment bag is once more seeing the light. Whatever the current look may be, nothing compares to feeling at home in our classics; those pieces that are, at least to us, forever “in.”
In 1985, Donna Karan introduced to the world of fashion the “Essential Line.” In her first private collection, there were seven simple pieces that continue to be timeless. These include the oversize sweater, a bodysuit, jersey dresses, Lycra tights (no longer just for exercise class), a white shirt, loose trousers and a tailored jacket. Over the years, she would incorporate new pieces, in her go-to favourite colour, black.
Karan, born Donna Ivy Faske, in 1948 in New York, was raised by a fashion-model mother and suit-designer stepfather – she was practically destined to have a lifelong career in fashion. The many awards she has received are but one proof of her talent for it.
At the age of 14, Karan quit school and embarked into that world, working in a boutique. At 20, she was accepted into the renowned Parsons School of Design. After graduating, she became, at 26 years old, head designer of the Anne Klein fashion house.
In 1984, Karan divorced her first husband, Mark Karan, and married Stephen Weiss. With full force, she began her own label. The line was geared to “design modern clothes for modern people.” She wanted to create clothing that she herself would wear and in which she would feel comfortable.
After dressing the likes of her best friend, Barbra Streisand, many A-list Hollywood stars and high-powered women in politics, Karan launched a new brand in 1988, DKNY, a line of less-expensive clothing. Seventeen years later, her business expanded into a men’s fashion line, fragrances, bedding. She also wrote a memoir, The Journey of a Woman: 20 Years of Donna Karan, among other accomplishments.
Karan’s Urban Zen came to fruition in 2001. While watching her beloved husband lose his battle to lung cancer and experiencing the sale of her empire to the multinational LVMH (where she stayed on as head designer until 2015), Karan learned that everyone must “find their calm in the chaos around the world.”
Urban Zen includes pieces to be worn year-round. But the project is grander than a fashion line – it is a broader approach to life that she hopes speaks to many people.
Karan believes it is fundamental to blend Eastern healing together with Western science. While watching her husband undergo chemotherapy, Karan found mediation, yoga, acupuncture and other holistic remedies essential for healing, and for acquiring some sense of inner peace. She built a harmonious sanctuary in the hospital where her husband was being treated, Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York. The sanctuary is a place for patients, loved ones and staff to go to recover from broken spirits and find solace. Its philosophy and practices have helped ease suffering to such a degree that, now, many hospitals and hospices have adopted its methods. The concepts are taught to doctors and nurses through Karan’s foundation, UZIT, Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program.
On a personal level, this fashionista-writer, who has always loved and appreciated the fun of fashion, also experienced an “aha” moment while researching this article. Being a cancer survivor and having overcome some unwanted surprises life has thrown my way, this spring, I am determined to embrace perfecting my downward dog as much as finding my new bag – devoting time to practising gratitude and investing in my most important asset, me. My tranquility and health are more important than any blouse.
Ariella Stein is a mother, wife and fashion maven. A Vancouverite, she has lived in both Turkey and Israel for the past 25 years.