Donna Karan talks personal taste: Part One

Designer Donna Karan recently stood down from the eponymous empire she founded over 30 years ago to focus on her philanthropic initiative, Urban Zen

Image: Dorothy Hong

My personal style signifiers are a black cashmere scarf and a bold artisan necklace made of wood or stone. The scarf is a way of life for me; it’s a security blanket, a luxurious piece to throw on my shoulder or wrap around myself if I get cold. The necklace – often something I pick up in Haiti from craftswoman Pascale Théard – adds that element of soul and individuality.        

Karan’s Urban Zen coat
Karan’s Urban Zen coat | Image: Dorothy Hong

The best gift I’ve given recently was a Ross Bleckner painting called Treasury of Light (Black), to my daughter Gabby. It is a large oil-on-linen piece that looks like a starburst in the dark night sky. I adore Bleckner – for his art and as a friend. We went to Hewlett High School together and have stayed in touch. Mary Boone Gallery, 541 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011 (+1212-752 2929;


And the best one I’ve received is time off. At this point in my life, this is the most precious gift of all.

Florblanca resort, Costa Rica.
Florblanca resort, Costa Rica. | Image: Peter Artemenko

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a slouchy chocolate-brown suede coat from Urban Zen [the label that helps fund her foundation]; I love the softness of suede. I have also ordered a striking gold metallic and black velvet embroidered evening coat from my autumn 2015 collection – a benefit of having my own label. It’s a forever piece.

Tutto Il Giorno restaurant, Long Island. 
Tutto Il Giorno restaurant, Long Island.  | Image: Erik Striffler

A recent “find” is a private house in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, which was recommended to me by the wonderful manager at the Florblanca resort just next door. Holidays are risky when it’s a new place, but everything about this villa was perfection. The house was comfortable, the views were stunning, and the location – right on the beach – was heavenly. Our days were spent doing yoga, eating at great restaurants and racing quad bikes across the sand. Florblanca, two miles north of Frank’s Place, Santa Teresa (+506-2640 0226;

The Zohar
The Zohar

The people I rely on for personal grooming are the same people I’ve been working with forever: Berta Camal at Jed Root who does my make-up in a low-key way, and Joyce Cohen who cuts and styles my hair. They know me and I trust them completely, even when we experiment with new looks. Berta Camal at Jed Root, 333 Seventh Ave, New York, NY 10001 (+1212-226 6600;

 Who Will Comfort Me by Melody Gardot. 
 Who Will Comfort Me by Melody Gardot. 

The last meal that truly impressed me was at Tutto Il Giorno on Long Island, where I loved both the food and atmosphere. Everything is fresh, simple and southern Italian in style, and the burrata with tomatoes, penne with eggplant, and cartoccio – beautiful local fish baked in parchment paper with roasted-tomato vinaigrette – were all exceptional. 56 Nugent St, Southampton, New York, NY 11968 (+1631-377 3611;


The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Francis Bacon. I have a few of his works, but I’d like more. I surprised my late husband Stephan with an enormous Bacon painting, as he was his favourite artist – and now he’s mine too.

The books on my bedside table are The Zohar – I’m a Kabbalist and this spiritual book is an endless source of comfort and inspiration – and my journal, which contains my to-do lists, my calendar and the sketches and ideas that strike at all times of the day and night.

My favourite room in my house is the spa in each of my homes. I have one in my Manhattan apartment, a yoga hut in Parrot Cay and a whole spa house in East Hampton. In each case, their design was an integral part of the overall space, because for me a spa is an essential.

The last music I downloaded was songs used in my autumn 2015 show. Our “music curator” Kevin Edwards always picks great tracks that become my playlist until the next season. Favourites include Kandace Springs’ Love Got in the Way, Lipbone Redding’s Sixteen Tons, and Melody Gardot’s Who Will Comfort Me. Each one has a soulful rhythm and beautiful lyrics.

My favourite websites are 8, a new video platform launched by my friend Sonja Nuttall that allows users to keep 80 per cent of the advertising money from the site, and Citizen Brooklyn, which focuses on this New York borough’s emerging creative community.

Discover the personal style files of other creatives with philanthropic clout, such as disaster-relief- housing architect Shigeru Ban and ethical jewellery designer Pippa Small.

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