Donna Karan was, well, Donna Karan last Saturday as she accepted the leadership award at the annual LongHouse Reserve Summer Benefit in the Hamptons, where she was honored along with Julian Schnabel. Literally landing from a trip only a few hours before, Karan in her acceptance speech touched on everything from summer school (which she had to attend in high school because she failed typing) to draping class at the Parsons School of Design (which she also failed) to her alternative career dreams.
“I wanted to be an artist,” she told the crowd, which included co-hosts Laurie Anderson and Benjamin Clementine, Robert Wilson, Zac Posen and Mary Snow. “But they didn’t think I was good enough. I wanted to be a singer like Barbra Streisand. I wanted to do a movie with her and she said that I can’t remember lines, so that was the end of that. I wanted to dance like Martha Graham — hello, the fabric, you know. So my husband did the stage set for Martha, how beautiful that was. And I did finally do the collection and it was amazing. Dreams do come true.”
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But while Karan touched on all those points, her main focus was on her work with her Urban Zen Foundation, which artist Ross Bleckner, in giving her the award, said has so far trained over 900 caregivers to provide holistic, non-pharmaceutical care to patients. “Donna turned the pain of losing her husband, Stephan, who was also a friend of mine, who also grew up where we grew up, to cancer in 2001 into a journey that led her to rethink the way patients are treated and cared for,” Bleckner said.
Gabby Karan de Felice, the designer’s daughter, said: “My mom is my mentor, best friend, soul mate and an inspiration. Her talent and forward thinking has always put her ahead of her time. It is her uniqueness and larger-than-life mind-set that has contributed to her success in creating not only an international fashion brand but it is her work to help and inspire others that has created real change for our future.”
As for Karan, she acknowledged the enormity of the goal of improving health care in the U.S. “We’ve got problems in health care,” she told the crowd. “We have problems in education. We have problems in our lives and, yes, the problems can be answered through our expression and our creativity. So I’m going to ask all of you tonight to create, collaborate, communicate the change that is needed. God bless you all.”