Swiss Flights

"I'm a seeker"

Mind, body and spirit – US fashion icon Donna Karan swears by this trinity. With Urban Zen, she is now creating a complementary philosophy of living. For people who wish to be in harmony with themselves and who want to bring about change. We met up with her for an interview in Zurich.

Susanne von Meiss
ZVG Urban Zen

“in some respects I have always remained a child.”

You recently published your autobiography “My Journey”, with a foreword by your friend Barbra Streisand, who you call your spiritual sister. You are very frank in the book and describe your life with all its highs and lows. Does Donna Karan’s life still have any secrets?

Yes, of course; there are still a few, but I’m pretty amazed myself at just how candid I’ve been in the book. But that’s my nature; I am upfront and open-hearted, I try to encourage others and to show that you can still carry on and succeed even when you’ve suffered losses. And success doesn’t necessarily have to be financial.

Last autumn, the Donna Karan label disappeared, DKNY continues to be successfully run by the LVMH group, who you sold your com­panies to 15 years ago, and now you are back on the scene again with a new concept that goes by the name of Urban Zen. What exactly is Urban Zen?

Urban Zen is a foundation and has now become a brand, too; but the studio in New York where you can find Urban Zen products is actually a marketplace, a conference centre, a yoga retreat, a place where we can present people and things that have a story to tell. We sell basic fashion items in typical Donna Karan style, jewellery and accessories made by indigenous collectives, primarily in Haiti and Bali. Urban Zen is not about fashion shows and celebrities, but about personal commitment. It’s about conscious consuming and about a community of people who want to change things.

A philosophy of life becomes a successful brand: this timelessly elegant chess set from Haiti is part of Donna Karan’s Urban Zen collection, which includes sustainably produced high-end fashion clothing, accessories, home decor items, furniture, beauty products and jewellery.

Where did the idea come from?

We got together after the earthquake in Haiti and tried to find a way to help the people on the island. We decided the answer was to provide them with work and education. I became committed to this at a time when I’d already achieved everything in my own life. But I somehow felt that there was something missing. I simply didn’t know what it was. One day, I met a very wise man who asked me: “Are you committed?”  This simple question changed my entire life. I have always been a very spiritual person, now I realised I could live by my guiding principle of “where there’s a problem, there’s also a solution” on a different level.‍

Where do you find the energy that is so crucial for these projects?

In my spiritual world, in my daily interaction with family and friends and during the time I spend at the Como Shambhala retreat run by my friend Christina Ong in Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands. That is a wonderful earth-water-fire place where you can find absolute peace and attain inner harmony.

What makes Urban Zen so special?

The fact that we find talented craftsmen and artists who can create incomparable objects in line with our designs or their own ideas and we enable them to earn their living by producing these items. In addition to a line of clothing – everything is comfortable and not too tight, since people are always putting on weight and losing it – there are also decorative art­icles and furniture. I just love shopping and finding that missing piece. I am a seeker in every area and in some respects I have always remained a child.

If you had to give a young person some good advice for life what would it be?

Go out and see the world! Go to school and learn, but then travel. People need a lot of different sources of inspiration in their lives …

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