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Urban Zen


Urban Zen is the brainchild of the indefatigable Donna Karan.  After a long and hugely successful career in the mainstream fashion industry, this iconic designer was expected to retire, handing the reins over to some carefully chosen acolyte, or up and coming hot new name.  Instead however, as a result of her husband and partner, Stephen Weiss she went through a personal transformation and rebirth, with one of the outward symbols, the birth of the Urban Zen Centre and Foundation.  Through the painful death of her partner Stephen Weiss from lung cancer, Donna learned first hand, that the things that alleviated his suffering were alternative therapies such as yoga and breath work, along with simply listening and caring.


Founded in 2008 in collaboration with designer Sonja Nuttal, Karan reportedly donated $850,000 from the sale of vintage samples at her late husband’s studio, to New York’s Beth Isreal Medical Center to finance research on the benefits of yoga, meditation and aromatherapy, practiced alongside the traditional cancer treatments of chemotherapy and radiation.


The Urban Zen Foundation creates, connects and collaborates to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of well being, preserving cultures and empowering children in mind, body and spirit.  The centre itself is a beautiful oasis of yoga calm and tranquility, featuring forums, discussions, exhibitions and events all centering around wellness and well-being.  The center includes a yoga space a lecture and workshop space, and yes, the reason I am writing about it, a store!  The store features a unique collection of dresses and separates under the Urban Zen label name, with decided African inspiration, and alongside a host of unique, independent, artisanal jewelry designers.


The Urban Zen collection is broken into capsules with names such as Elements, Cashmere, Enrapture, and Sky, and produced from beautiful fluid, flowing jersey.  Created in a range of muted earthy tones, the unique designs have a transformative element to them with cocooning styles that can be worn on and off the shoulder, twisted, turned and wrapped, often in various ways.  The sensuality of the designs is palpable through their easy elegance and timeless quality.  The range is dress heavy, and includes floor-sweeping Massai inspired drapes, with an elegant, unmistakable styling.  Almost the entire collection is produced in fluid jersey and solid colorations, with the occasional addition of shibori dye techniques.  Sinuous, draped and wrapped tops, coordinate with comfy, cropped and draped pants, owing more than a nod to yoga wear, complete the collection beautifully.  The Enrapture collection continues where the Elements collection leaves off with scarves, wraps, jackets and padded, quilted cocooning coats.  The collection is produced entirely in shades of gray through charcoal, and various tones of black, with touches of teal and sky blue.


The store also features a wonderful range of contemporary, artisanal, ethnic jewelry, placing the importance of tradition, culture and artisanship where it belongs, in high fashion.  In support of the Haitian earth quake, almost forgotten now by those not directly affected by it, and in the wake of so many other disasters, Urban Zen continues their mission to support the development or Haitian artists by collaborating and presenting their work in the store.


Urban Zen also features the work of Margaret Maclean, and her Kokoro jewelry collection. Connecting various cultural expressions of tradition and adornment from around the world, Maclean incorporates collected beads and artifacts from various cultures throughout the world.  Celebrating heritage, spirit and the essence of diverse cultures, her work re-imagines talismanic charms into one of a kind jewelry.


Celine Cannon is a fiber artist and stone carver who’s work is also available at Urban Zen. Her hand woven fiber art, whether worn or displayed as hangings, is full of character, texture and authenticity.   Hailing from a long line of Irish stone carvers, Celine views her weaving as a tactile diary, recording her days and presenting her stories through the loom.


By Wanga, designs jewelry that incorporate natural and recuperated materials such as bone, metal and shells.  Working with mutton and goat leather, the items are laboriously fashioned into labor-intensive pieces, based on the African artisan tradition. The leather is vegetable tanned, scratched, sculpted, sewn, creamed and polished, entirely by hand, giving each piece an identity, personality and authenticity all its own.  Based in Senegal, By Wanga epitomizes the purpose of the store, to preserve culture by incorporating the wisdom of artistry of the past into the present.


Website: www.urbanzen.com



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