Donna Karan to Expand Urban Zen

Nature — stones, specifically — inspired the New Elements Collection.

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NEW YORK — Donna Karan would give you the shirt off her back, if she thought it would help sell her Urban Zen collection.

This story first appeared in the April 11, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

She did just that on Friday during Urban Zen’s New Elements Collection preview, held in the soaring upper level of the brand’s compound on Greenwich Street here. Models wore folded, draped and tucked pieces with oversize laser-cut leather jewelry, such as coiled bracelets and stacked loop necklaces, topping off most looks. Nature — stones, specifically — inspired the clothes, including a variety of takes on T-shirt dressing, such as washed jersey tanks with asymmetric seams and harem pants in oatmeal, brown, olive and sea green, all colors taken from nature. “They’re eye colors,” Karan said. “Think of every person’s eye color.” A hand-painted shibori print was the lone graphic element.

“Try this on, you won’t believe how comfortable it is,” Karan gushed, removing her jacket and handing it to a guest. “That looks so great on you.” Next, Karan tried to convince a customer whose wardrobe is almost entirely black to expand her horizons. “Try this on,” she said of a brown dress. “This is the one you want. You’ll look skinny in it. Aren’t these colors the bomb?”

Karan launched Urban Zen on Greenwich Street in 2007, along with a unit in Sag Harbor, N.Y. “It’s where commerce and philanthropy come together,” she said. “It’s a lifestyle brand.” Urban Zen fulfills Karan’s buy-now, wear-now philosophy, a message she’s been preaching for years. “You see the clothes and buy the clothes,” she said Friday. “It’s seasonless, timeless and effortless.”

“We are going to take this out to other locations,” Karan said of Urban Zen, citing Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Texas — she didn’t name a city — as locations for future shops.

“L.A. will be first because I’ve had two pop-up stores there,” she said, including a 2008 temporary shop on a trendy stretch of Robertson Boulevard near Melrose Avenue. Karan said she’s found a location for an Urban Zen store, which will open in September, in the vicinity of Robertson Boulevard.

“Consumers in L.A. will have no problem understanding the Urban Zen concept,” Karan said. “L.A. is a mind, body and spirit kind of place. They get yoga and they get integrated medicine. I know so many healers there. It’s the land of the spirit.”

Karan said Urban Zen is working with Ohio State and Kent State on developing integrated therapy programs. Urban Zen promotes wellness, from patient advocacy to marrying Western medicine with alternative healing and preserving cultures. The designer on Friday evening was leaving for Haiti, where she’s working on a project involving products across several categories. She said she’s thinking about selling the Haiti products at wholesale to reach a larger audience since the amount of aid needed to rebuild the country after the devastating 2009 earthquake is so vast. “This is a dream to work with products on a large scale,” she said.

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