“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only,” said Coco Chanel. “Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” For these six masters of runway and retail—Zac Posen, Donna Karan, Elie Tahari, Diane von Furstenberg, Rachel Roy, and Michael Kors—fashion also exists in the way that they give. Their commitments to a range of causes, from efforts to preserve New York City landmarks and provide for the city’s foster children to projects in Africa that address the global plight of hunger, are deeply personal. In addition to cash contributions, they’re also pioneering fresh, creative approaches to raise awareness and much-needed funds. “Philanthropy and commerce are a powerful combination,” says Karan. “It’s addressing and dressing at the same time.”
Donna Karan strides through the cozy Urban Zen store on Greenwich
Street, pausing to point out bags and chandeliers crafted by Haitian artisans
amidst the deliberately seasonless apparel, and into the cavernous
former art studio of her late husband, Stephan Weiss. “He would begin by
placing random dots on a page,” says Karan, standing before a wall of his
works on paper. “Then, guided by energy, he would connect them and ultimately
transform them into a painting or sculpture.”
It was Weiss, after dying of lung cancer in 2001, who inspired Karan to connect
the dots for herself. “I realized in healthcare that nobody was caring for
the patient,” she says. “Everyone was caring for the disease.” She brought
together her yoga-honed understanding of the body with her fashion design
talent and passion for philanthropy to create the Urban Zen Foundation,
which addresses well-being, empowering children, and preserving cultures.
“My dream for Urban Zen was to create a space and a place for like-minded
people to come together and create change,” explains Karan.
Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Karan helped residents rebuild their
livelihoods. Items made by artisans in the seaside community of Jacmel are for
sale in her three Urban Zen stores. “Haiti embraced all three of our objectives:
healthcare, education, and culture,” says Karan. “People say to me, ‘Donna,
you can’t do all three; you have to do one.’ And it drives me crazy because it’s
just a matter of connecting the dots.” 819 Madison Ave., 212-861-1001. Urban Zen, 705 Greenwich St., 212-206-3999.
photography by david needleman
Grooming by Benjamin Thigpen for Recipe for Men (tahari)