By  on October 2, 2007

NEW YORK — Donna Karan has turned to fashion to further her humanitarian efforts.

Karan, who launched the Urban Zen initiative with a 10-day seminar on well-being and patient advocacy in May, is banking on a new clothing collection and store by the same name to provide another facet to her program.

The 1,200-square-foot store at 705 Greenwich Street here opened temporarily during the program's first installment, but Karan decided to make it a permanent fixture last month. A banner that reads "Raise Awareness Inspire Change" — Urban Zen's mantra, according to Karan — brings attention to the boutique and the initiative.

Karan started her initiative after witnessing the medical system's shortcomings first-hand when her late husband, Stephan Weiss, and her friend Lynn Kohlman battled cancer. Her desire to incorporate alternative and holistic healing methods, including organic nutrition, restorative yoga and healing rooms into established medical institutions led to Urban Zen. Karan, who cofounded the initiative with her friend, designer Sonja Nuttall, also produced a subsequent seminar on Africa, and next month Urban Zen plans to host a series of events with the SFK (Spirituality for Kids) Foundation. In preparation, Karan recently traveled to Israel to work with Israeli and Palestinian children.

A portion of the profits from the store will go to Karan's foundation and to Urban Zen's programs. The boutique is adjacent to the Stephan Weiss Studios, where the Urban Zen events have taken place.

The Urban Zen collection and retail unit are independent of Donna Karan International.

"The store truly represents the complete concept of Urban Zen, touching a person by its coziness, its comfortable-ness, its caring-ness, its simplicity, its sensibility of people today and how they want to have objects of desire," Karan said.

The space and collection explore Karan's more spiritual, holistic interests. The unit itself has a raw aesthetic feel that Karan warms with artifacts she has gathered from around the world. "The beauty of it is the simplicity of the raw space, and using the space as is," she said.

Karan described the collection with one of her signature Donna-isms. "It's finding the calm in the chaos of dressing," she said. "It's clothes that will hopefully last forever. It's not about a seasonal fashion statement of winter, spring and summer, and yet it will evolve. I think these are clothes that are collectibles, like the objects in the store. A lot of it is recycled, re-dyed and over-dyed, and fabrics are cashmere, silk, cotton...the staples."Although some of the pieces blend in easily with her other collections, Urban Zen focuses more on the utilitarian aspect of dressing. Cases in point, the line includes a utilitarian jumpsuit, jodhpur pull-on yoga pants, a double-layered hooded cardigan and cashmere pieces suitable for layering. Urban Zen apparel retails from $295 to $2,995.

"It's very much about layering, taking them on and taking them off, and rolling them up so you can go anywhere in the world," Karan said. "It's definitely for the person who is constantly on the go and constantly traveling, or for the person who just wants to hang out and do nothing."

The boutique is selling pieces by other designers, too, such as Forme by Koeun Park, Bonnie Young children's wear, Lainey knitwear and James Perse. The jewelry is by Wanga from Namibia and Agas & Tamar from Israel. Shoes are by Simple, and are sustainable with natural materials such as organic cotton, recycled car tires and cork, and espadrilles are by Toms, which aims to combine fashion with a social conscience, with each sold pair resulting in a donated pair for a impoverished child. There are also one-of-a-kind artisan items and home pieces, including stone sculptures by Celine Cannon. "There's a hand and a soul and an art in every single thing," Karan said.

For the mind, the store offers literature devoted to wellness and yoga, and for the senses, there are essential oils by Young Living, massage oils and body lotions by Como Shambhala, which is part of Christina Ong's Club 21 empire.

Those who attended the DKNY and Donna Karan Collection runway shows last month understand how passionate Karan has become about the collection and store, as she spent much time before and after the shows to personally pull in editors and buyers for support.

"The one thing I love about the store is that we're in season," Karan said with a laugh, referencing one of her pet peeves about the fashion system. "We're probably the only store that will show fall in fall and spring in spring."

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