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Donna Karan’s Vision Quest

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Seventy-two hours after she returned from Africa, Karan is thinking maybe she will go to Big Sur, because she always dreamed of moving to Big Sur as a kid, or to L.A. to see Barbra, or maybe to Sun Valley to visit her close friend Richard Baskin, a music producer and writer, and an ex-boyfriend of Barbra’s. She also mentions going to Alaska and then to Mexico. She’s not sure she wants to stay in East Hampton, and she definitely doesn’t want to go to the city. She keeps on saying she wants to go somewhere, but she doesn’t know where to go. Then J.J. said he was coming to visit over the weekend, so she’s thinking she’ll stay in East Hampton. “I have only gone out with two men in my entire life, and I was married to them,” she says. “So dating for me is a cultural shock.”

In the living room of her East Hampton house, a stack of Women’s Wear Dailys that Karan missed during her vacation rest on an end table, unread. Much of Karan’s business today is licensed—eyewear, kids, hosiery, watches, jeans, home, beauty—and DKNY is entirely designed by Jane Chung, a Karan employee since Anne Klein. Many of Karan’s employees are also longtime loyalists, and during the sale to LVMH Karan insisted on a provision protecting them from being fired without her consent. The collection is overseen by well-regarded former Cerruti designer Peter Speliopoulos, with Karan’s involvement ranging from a few tweaks to completely new creations. In recent months, it has been rumored that LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault would like to sell the company if he could recoup something close to his investment (analysts say it is now worth less than half of the amount LVMH paid). Karan could remain as chief designer, or not. “I say to myself all the time I’m not going to do it anymore, but then I see another piece of fabric,” she says. “It would be a big step to say I don’t have a deadline, ever. I’m addicted to it. I’m a little alcoholic, honey.”

Then there are her future plans: “I wanna do a restaurant, I wanna do hotels. I want to do a yogic health and healing space really badly. I want to be able to bring my lifestyle, a holistic lifestyle and the creative and the luxury and cultural into one particular venue.” She thinks she might want to become a photographer, and she’s into books. She’s publishing one with the friend who had brain cancer, Lynn Kohlman, and recently hosted a party at her Madison Avenue store for Iyengar yoga guru Rodney Yee’s new book.

This afternoon, Yee comes over with his girlfriend Colleen Saidman, co-founder of the popular Sag Harbor studio Yoga Shanti, to give Donna a lesson in her yoga room, which is attached to a massive bathroom of Jerusalem limestone, complete with a deep Jacuzzi tub and a massage table. (There are no bathroom doors in the house; Weiss and Karan designed their home, and forgot to put them in the plan.) Yee and Saidman sit down with Karan and the PowerBook for another slide show, this time from a yoga retreat they all did together in Bali. J.J. and Karan hug by a waterfall, and then there is Karan alone, naked except for her Kabbalah string, sitting with her legs huddled up by her chest as the water pours hard on her head.

Karan is an advanced yogi, and though she can be a terrific klutz in ordinary life she is exquisitely graceful as she moves from pose to pose. While Saidman advises her on proper alignment, Yee’s three children splash in the pool outside, and when class is over they rush into the room. One of them goes over to Karan’s altar, where there is a Dhyani-Buddha and a black-and-white photo of Weiss. “That’s Donna’s ex-husband,” explains Yee.

“My husband, my mother, and my boss all died on a day of a show,” Karan says. “Black and white. Birth and death. I have to believe it has something to do with karma. That’s how I cope.”

“He’s still her husband,” corrects Saidman.

“That’s okay,” says Karan. “He’s still here. I know he’s here.”

Karan takes the kids through the house, pointing out Weiss’s sculptures, crouching, glowering figures made of twisted metal. Her white-uniformed chef supplies a lunch of salad and nuts, and Yee tells her about a qi gong master from China she might want to start studying with. They discuss the state of the world. “J.J. wants to do a movie of a Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian all talking to each other, and I said, ‘You’ve got to get a yogi in there, because we are all one,’ ” Karan says. Afterward, she asks if everyone wants to watch Weiss’s memorial video. Her friends have told her not to show J.J. the video, but she’s thinking that maybe he’d like to see it this weekend.

Weiss was sick for seven years. “We had the good years and bad years,” says Karan. “He was operated on three times. Originally they said, ‘We got it, no problem.’ The next year, it happened again. That was a bit of a shock. The third time, we knew we had a real problem.” She calls herself cheap, and indeed she does not live like someone with her kind of wealth, but says that when Weiss was dying she wanted him to have everything he ever wanted. She bought him his first Ducati, spurring a passion for collecting and racing bikes, then a Lamborghini, and surprised him during one hospital stay with a painting by his favorite artist, Francis Bacon. She bought the land on Parrot Cay and promised him she would build houses (now, tents) there for the whole family to keep Gabby and Weiss’s kids together when he was gone. She lobbied for one of his sculptures, a three-ton apple, to be installed on the West Side Highway near Christopher Street, and still maintains his 10,000-square-foot studio on Greenwich Street, which she’s planning to turn into an exhibition space.

Everyone gathers on Karan’s white couches as the video begins. As images of Weiss racing down the slopes or at the stock exchange on the day the company went public flash by, Karan gives a hard slap to the cushion. “My husband, my mother, and my boss all died on a day of a show,” she says later. “Black and white. Birth and death. I have to believe it has something to do with karma. That’s how I cope.” Karan didn’t particularly care for the shoot for this article—No retouching? “Let’s just say Barbra wouldn’t have approved,” she said. In a tiny barn in Bridgehampton, Chuck Close’s assistants pinned some of the shots he had taken to a wall, and Karan pointed to the two that were most conventionally flattering. “That’s my opinion,” she said. “Just an opinion, and you know what I say to my people—it’s like an asshole; everyone has one.”

But it was before this, when she was in her bedroom getting dressed, that what makes Karan’s opinion so special came to light. She declared that she had no clothes, because everything she liked was still “stinking” from her trip, but after a few minutes playing in her sparsely stocked closet she created an outfit. A beaded belt, a tie-dyed scarf, an old carrot-colored sweater— “It’s got a pull in it; sorry, guys,” she said. These are things no one would have thought went together. She looked magnificent.


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