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06.14.11

Donna Karan's Zen Approach to Cancer

The designer has lost a staggering three loved ones to cancer. So she started a foundation, and handed out awards to Bill Clinton, among others, in honor of her late husband this week. By Liz Kulze

Donna Karan became the West Village's incarnation of Buddhist teachings this week with the inauguration of the Stephan Weiss Apple Awards, in honor of her late husband. Weiss' struggle with cancer prompted Karan to start a campaign that highlights the urgent need for a healthcare system that recognizes the benefits of holistic nourishment alongside medical treatment. Karan has lost a staggering three loved ones to the disease.

The event was hosted by Karan's Urban Zen Foundation and the awards recognized leaders atop Urban Zen's three pillars. Bill Clinton received the preserving cultures award for his work with the Clinton Global Initiative, Courtney Sale Ross the education award for her school, and Dr. Oz, the well-being award, for his televised push for a healthier America.

For an evening inspired by meditation, the weather was anything but serene as the sky released a cascade of summer rain in the midst of red carpet arrivals and belted out thunder that made Betsey Johnson shake. The infamously eccentric designer wore all white, a dangerous shade for downpours, but seemed unfazed, telling the Daily Beast, "It's all mind over matter."

Cancer veteran Michael Douglas appeared sprightly in a summer linen suit. To host a Zen-themed party with a guest list of continually booked and busy celebrities may seem ironic, but everyone from Demi and Ashton, to Sarah Jessica Parker and Anna Wintour seemed relaxed and ready to enjoy themselves. Health herald Dr. Oz even arrived eating a chocolate bar, albeit organic.

"I've been a yogi for some years…I've been on my guru trip," said Donna Karan

Following arrival guests were ushered into the Urban Zen shop, Karan's tranquil retail temple, where they were met with the therapeutic scent of burning incense and displays of original Haitian art, iron masks, handcrafted beads, and embellished handbags from Urban Zen's Hope Help & Rebuild Haiti Initiative. Glowing in neutrals, Karan, a self-declared guru, had somehow made New York go yogi. Even De Niro was in for it, telling the Daily Beast to, "go to a park, sit, and meditate" whenever searching for some peace of mind.

The dinner and presentation of awards was particularly poignant, held adjacent to the store in the very studio space where Weiss created his innovative sculptures. Banquet tables were bedecked with orchids, candles, and sandalwood fans to prevent sweating in eveningwear. "If you heard that storm, that was Stephan," remarked Karan in her opening speech. "Stephan loved storms. Stephan prayed for storms. And tonight he is with us in mind, body, and spirit." A video presentation of Weiss' life and work followed, evoking a mix of sighs and laughter. Footage of Weiss' grandchild reading at his funeral played alongside Karan's words, "He was so, so hot," as photos of a young Weiss flashed onscreen.

As per past presidents, Clinton arrived at the 11th hour, accepting his golden miniature of Weiss' Apple sculpture (displayed at Hudson River Park) with a lengthy speech in praise of Karan and Urban Zen's global humanitarian efforts, particularly in Haiti. The former president also claimed that it was DKNY's clothing that got the unknown Arkansas governor "street-cred in Washington." Ross and Oz also spoke briefly, echoing Karan's mantra of instilling global awareness and holistic learning in the realms of education and healthcare. The presentation was followed by a live auction to benefit the foundation and a concert by Wyclef Jean, Miri Ben-Air, and Claudette Ortiz.

As the evening wore on, Karan's passion for Urban Zen's cause continued to ring strong. "I've been a yogi for some years…I've been on my guru trip," she joked.