Urban Zen with Donna Karan

Designer Donna Karan shifts her focus from ‘dressing’ people in designer duds to ‘addressing’ them about issues that are close to her heart

By Stephanie Wilson
Photography by Yann Dandois


 “Everything I do is a matter of heart, body, and soul,” says Karan.

While the word ‘health’ means “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit” according to Miriam Webster Dictionary, in our country, healthcare, while caring for the condition of the body, tends to neglect that of the mind or spirit. While other cultures have long known the connection between the wellness of mind and spirit in conjunction with that of the body, ours is seriously lagging behind.

The state of our healthcare system is something that has become of importance to world-renowned designer Donna Karan. In recent years, she has learned the significance of making healthcare more, well, caring. It all stems from the tragic loss of her husband Stephan Weiss to lung cancer in 2001. Weiss was Ms. Karan’s partner in the founding of the idyllic fashion company that bears her trademarked name.

Throughout her prolific career, when Karan saw something missing from the marketplace, she filled the void with pioneering products. Her wildly successful Donna Karan New York stemmed from her desire to perfect the simplicity of the bodysuit; DKNY was the answer to her quest for the perfect jeans, along with her desire to dress her daughter Gabby. When she realized that the men in her life-husband Stephan included-also required a sophisticated system of dressing, DKNY Men was launched.

Today, her husband continues to be an inspiration to her, although her focus has shifted. “I suppose I’ve simply gotten to a point in my life where I want to ‘address’ people, not simply ‘dress people,'” she explains in a blog she pens for The Huffington Post about her new cause. Her first step in doing so has been with the founding of Urban Zen, a philanthropy that is addressing nontraditional wellness concepts through various initiatives. The first Initiative was The Wellbeing Forum, a two-week workshop to explore a new model for wellness and patient care, which took place from May 14 to 24 in Manhattan.

“Everything I do is a matter of heart, body, and soul,” says Karan. The initiative aims to combine the three in today’s complex healthcare system. Dr. Larry Norton, deputy physician-in-chief for breast cancer programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center said, “The two historic threads that joined to create what we now term as Western Medicine are the Greek school, which focused on the flow of body fluids and abstract reasoning, and the Arabic-Persian school, which emphasized anatomy and scientific observations. It is now clear that we have much to gain by studying and integrating principles and techniques derived from other cultures into our powerful existing corpus of medical knowledge. Donna Karan’s new initiative will expand and encourage this dialogue in an environment of openness, creativity, and mutual respect, all for the benefit of our patients and ourselves.”