November 2011


The international vibe of Donna Karan’s Urban Zen is right at home here in L.A. by EMILI VESILIND

While the sensibility of designer Donna Karan—the woman and the label—is synonymous with New York and its smart, sharp dress code, her most recent endeavor, the stand-alone Urban Zen, expands her geographical associations to some of the most unplugged and vulnerable places on Earth.

Urban Zen recently opened a store in West Hollywood, its third in the U.S.—launched in 2007 in tandem with Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation, a nonprofit that works to preserve world cultures, empower children and reshape healthcare.

“Putting philanthropy and commerce together is what Urban Zen is about,” says Karan, nestled in a charcoal pinstripe beanbag chair (“My favorite thing in the world”) at the new emporium. “And if asked where the perfect Urban Zen center would be, it would be L.A.”

The boutique is a tucked-away indoor-outdoor oasis that features fashion, accessories, furniture and home wares—with everything except the clothes and jewelry collections handcrafted by artisans in Haiti, Indonesia, Senegal and Bali.

Bracelets, necklaces and leather goods made from inky hides, toasted bone and beads created by rolling and varnishing strips of cereal boxes are cradled in hand-carved wooden bowls perched on huge slabs of driftwood. Draped across oversize wooden chairs and sofas are knit cashmere and wool scarves generous enough to swaddle the entire body and equally enormous (and luxe) raw-leather cross-body satchels.

Karan’s jersey-heavy Urban Zen clothing—a line of body-wrapping dresses, outerwear and separates that elevates yoga wear to sumptuous ready-to-wear priced comparably to Karan’s namesake collection—covers part of the store’s interior walls. Most of the solid, neutral-hued tunics, dresses and tops convert into different shapes and configurations, origami style, recalling the designer’s circa-1985 Seven Easy Pieces, a simple system for building a stylish wardrobe. Built-in scarves on everything from tops to dresses play prominently.

“These are clothes that are seasonless, timeless,” says Karan, who names her design muses as “everyone from Demi to Barbra to me,” adding, “My friends and I are constantly nomadic, constantly moving. These are clothes to live in. If you can’t sleep in it, I’m not interested.”