This story first appeared in the September 11, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
This year, Donna Karan celebrates the 15th anniversary of her smash fragrance, Cashmere Mist. As with so much in the designer’s world, the scent has a unique beginning, born out of Karan’s unorthodox approach to the category overall. Karan’s maverick streak has served her well, be it in building a style empire or her foray into health and well-being via the Urban Zen foundation. Here, Karan dishes on cashmere, clarity and finding calm amidst the chaos.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE BEAUTY? For me, beauty is inside and out. It is the totality of beauty, something you feel inside and project outside.
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED FROM YOUR JOURNEY INTO SPIRITUALITY? To connect to a higher spirit. If you connect, you’ll really be led. You are your spirit. You are that essence that is inside of you. Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of what is the obvious and go to a deeper level.
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YOU TALK A LOT ABOUT CARING FOR OTHER PEOPLE. HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF ON A DAILY BASIS? With great difficulty. [Laughs.] Yoga is very important to me, meditation, bathing, I love steaming. I leave my morning for me, from 7 to 10:30, and then it’s off to work. Being around Urban Zen has a lot to do with the mere fact of raising consciousness, being out there, helping other people, looking at the world not for me, but for we.
HOW DO YOU CONNECT INNER AND OUTER? Breathing. Stopping. Meditating. Have a clarity—notice the installation as you see it. When you get the signs, if you have this awareness, you look for the signs and what they’re trying to tell. Trust your instinct.
WHERE ARE YOU HAPPIEST? In nature. And with my grandchildren.
WHICH OF YOUR SENSES DO YOU RELY MOST ON AND WHY? My creative, my instinct, my vision. It’s what drives me.
CASHMERE MIST IS 15 YEARS OLD. WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE ITS ENDURANCE TO? Take a name like Cashmere—let’s start there. Who doesn’t want to be enraptured in cashmere?
HOW IS THE PROCESS OF CREATING A FRAGRANCE LIKE THAT OF CREATING A COLLECTION? Instinct.
WHAT IS YOUR MULTITASKING SECRET? It’s driven by passion.
WHOM HAVEN’T YOU DRESSED WHO YOU’D LIKE TO? I’d love to dress Michelle Obama. She is my ultimate.
WHAT STRESSES YOU OUT? AND HOW DO YOU DECOMPRESS? Decisions. Do I want to go here or there? I’m a Libra and see it from both sides. Making decisions is tough for me. And letting go. Those are my two most diffi cult challenges. Family or work? Especially when you get to be a certain age, how you prioritize your time, and how to balance health and well-being and passion, when you have so much passion and desire.
HAVE YOU FOUND THE BALANCE? Oh no, that’s why I have Urban Zen, to try to find the calm in the chaos. That’s what I’m looking for. I’m searching for myself, which manifests into that which I want to share.
YOU WERE RECENTLY AWARDED AN HONORARY NURSING DEGREE BY THE BETH ISRAEL MEDICAL CENTER. WHAT DID THAT MEAN TO YOU? It was quite an honor. When my husband passed away, he said, “Whatever you do, don’t forget the nurses.” What does the word nursing mean? Caring. Caring for the patient, not the disease. That is one of the main thrust points of Urban Zen, creating an integrative therapist program, which supports patients, loved ones, doctors and nurses. Unless you can take care of yourself, it’s pretty difficult to take care of another human being.
WHAT GIVES YOU ENERGY AND WHAT SAPS IT? My protein drink in the morning. I love inversions, backbends. Gives me a little buzz, gets it all going. I’ve been working with Tracy Anderson and that’s pretty energetic. Creating. Having a vision is the biggest thing, and to manifest it. Indecision saps my energy. Not having enough shield around me and having people sucking. To decipher what I can really accomplish and what I can’t can frustrate me. I get frustrated, yet it pushes me, it’s a push and a pull. There’s a yin and yang in everything we do.
HIGH MAINTENANCE OR LOW? Very high. [Laughs.] And yet very low. It’s a dichotomy. I live in high maintenance, which drives a lot of people crazy, but I’m really simple at the same time.