ON DONNA: All clothes by Urban Zen. 4 Bay St., Sag Harbor, 725-6176; ON RUSSELL: All clothes, Simmons’s own
This weekend marks one of the most philanthropically driven of the Hamptons social season. On Saturday afternoon, people will gather at Nova’s Ark Project in Bridgehampton for Super Saturday 15, the luxury shopping event created by Donna Karan and the late Liz Tilberis to raise money for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Later that evening, the where-to-be-seen scene will shift to Russell Simmons’s East Hampton estate as the music and fashion mogul raises money for his Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which helps provide arts education and gallery programs to inner-city youths. “The reason I have my program in the Hamptons is because there are so many giving people,” says Simmons of his Art for Life Gala, which has raised $20 million throughout the years. “I’ve had my house here for 17 years; for 13 of those years, my backyard has been the space for this event, and it has always raised good money and done good things for young people.”
“The Hamptons talks to me about unity, it talks to me about children, it talks to me about my family, it talks to me about my friends,” says Karan. “When I’m at work, I’m in my New York mode of ‘got to get it done.’ When I’m in the Hamptons, I think about what I can do to bring awareness and inspire a change. Here, you’re barefoot and you’re connected to the ground and the sky. Whether you’re standing on your head or you’re standing on your feet, the Hamptons really is about earth, wind, fire, and your family.”
Both longtime yogis, Karan and Simmons have channeled their “be present” yoga lifestyle into Art for Life and Super Saturday, as well as Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation, a global organization dedicated to awareness and well-being, sponsored in part by her Urban Zen boutique in Sag Harbor. In fact, it was through Sag Harbor’s Yoga Shanti that the two first met. “What I loved about Russell is the fact that the class is so quiet, and we were all so present, and all of a sudden Russell would bring the whole group together with wit and humor and a presence of life,” says Karan. “Yoga gives you an opportunity just to be taken care of and find the calm in the chaos.”
RUSSELL SIMMONS: How did you first start Super Saturday?
DONNA KARAN: Actually, it was inspired by something I did when the AIDS epidemic broke out in the early ’80s—Seventh on Sale. I was losing all my friends, and I said, “We have to bring awareness to the disease.” So we got all the designers, the retailers, the consumers—Ralph, Calvin, me—we all emptied out our design rooms, and with Anna Wintour and Stan Herman, then president of the CFDA , we did a three-day event that raised more than $3.5 million. It was pretty amazing. So I realized there was a formula there: communicating to the consumer—dressing and addressing her—as opposed to just asking for money.
RS: Things happen because you feel in your heart to do it.
DK: When Super Saturday started, it was in Liz Tilberis’s backyard. We all emptied our closets and got all our friends together, and we were buying each other’s things. Liz had ovarian cancer and nobody was aware of the disease, so we just had to bring the awareness. My husband was sick with lung cancer at the time, and Anne Klein had cancer—I guess my whole life has been around cancer—it probably made me who I am today.
RS: I think some of the people in the Hamptons honestly are some of the most giving in the world. It’s nice to go out and splurge and rub elbows, but in the end, it’s what you leave behind as you go shopping at Super Saturday.
DK: The beautiful thing about it is it’s no longer only shopping. It is where the whole family comes together. The kids hang out at Spirituality For Kids (SFK); my favorite part of Super Saturday is sitting down and reading to these children.
RS: [My kids] Aoki and Ming make pillows that they sell at Art for Life.
DK: That’s cool! See, that’s it—when we get our families involved and the community gets involved, the buzz gets out, and change will occur. You know what I love best about your event—the balloons.
RS: You bought so many, you ought to love them! You’ve been such a great supporter—monetarily and [through] your presence—both of them have been great blessings for us.
DK: It’s not like you’re asking somebody to buy just another thing. You’re saying this balloon helps a child. Who in the world wouldn’t want to help a child go to school and have art in classes?
RS: School systems have been cutting education budgets since I can remember, and more and more kids were subject to school buildings that are like prisons with math and science and not cultivating creative muscles. Everything I’ve done today has been because I was able to exercise creativity as a young person. To me, that is so central to a kid’s education, and so we started the Rush Foundation just to give kids the same opportunities. Supplementing art education to the best of our ability and creating awareness around the issue seemed like a natural thing to do.
DK: It’s not even acceptable that art is not in every single school. I don’t think I would be sitting here today had it not been for my art class. Reading, writing, and arithmetic was not my thing; I failed typing. Art kept me alive because I felt so uncomfortable in school as a student. Ross Bleckner and I went to the same school in Hewlett, Long Island, and we had the same art teachers. When creating the Urban Zen Foundation, I really do think that’s what drove me: I said our mind, our body, and our spirit make us who we are today, and it’s the one thing that is really missing in education. Both of us have the same passions, two yogis.
RS: There’s no question—we talk about all the ways to be present, to be awake, to move toward yoga. Music and other creative processes— whether it’s drawing, painting, writing poetry, music—all of these things promote presence. Without this kind of expression, we can never imagine ourselves out of very difficult situations. Kids don’t find freedom through numbers; they find freedom through art and creativity. We also know that when we do promote this creative expression, kids do so much better scholastically.
DK: I go to Haiti with Urban Zen, and you can’t teach these kids the same way that you teach a regular school. They’re creative. They come from the arts. They come from singing. They come from dancing. They come from making things in the ground where you have nothing. From nothing comes something, and that’s art. Russell, I think you and I completely are on the same line of it—this is not about you doing this or me doing this, but getting everyone together to realize there’s a problem in education. I wouldn’t be who I am had I not had the most brilliant art teachers. I did my first fashion show when I was in high school, but I actually didn’t want to be a fashion designer; I wanted to be an illustrator because I loved drawing.
RS: I wanted to make clothes so badly, Donna. My Argyleculture collection, I design these clothes out of need. I go shopping and say, “Hey, why is there not a collection that speaks this language?”— that’s why I made my first brand, Phat Farm. Argyleculture is the same. These clothes express a sentiment and a culture that is underserved.
DK: I made clothes because I wanted clothes for me and my friends. I never wanted to build a big company. I just wanted clothes for me and my friends, and when my daughter started stealing my clothes, I had to do another collection for her friends called DKNY. I started because I liked bodysuits and leggings.
RS: Is that why you do yoga every day? So you could rock your bodysuits and leggings?
DK: I started doing yoga so I could connect with my daughter. When I’d come home from work when she was just a baby, we would do yoga in my bedroom. I started doing yoga when I was 18, but it became a wonderful connection for me and Gabby. Russell, I’m asking you a favor—not only art in schools, but we must put yoga in schools.
RS: I work with Bent on Learning (a nonprofit that provides yoga to New York’s inner-city school children). I’m on the board at the David Lynch Foundation that is putting meditation in schools. I’ve been working and broadening the programs everywhere—it’s critical; it’s part of the same creative process. In fact, many of our art programs have meditation classes for kids. Through yoga and mediation, kids can allow their mind to settle and they can create new expansive minds.
DK: The world needs this immediately. Where do you find the calm in the chaos? That’s why I named my foundation Urban Zen. You know, I had to go down to Southampton the other day, and we’ve got our integrative therapy program down in Southampton Hospital. There is that helping hand that all the nurses need and the doctors need. I’m not saying get rid of school, the hospitals, the doctors; I’m saying integrate it. Mind, body, and spirit must be integrated into our health system and our education system.
Super Saturday takes place on Saturday, July 28, from 1 to 6 PM at Nova’s Ark Project, 60 Millstone Road, Water Mill; for tickets, visit ocrf.org. Rush Philanthropic’s Art for Life Gala happens Saturday, July 28, starting at 6 PM; for tickets, visit rushphilanthropic.org.
photography by michael filonow; Styling by Nikko Kefalas; Donna: Hair by Joyce Cohen for Pierre Michel Salon; Makeup by Berta Camal at Jed Root, Inc.; Russell: Grooming by Michelle Coursey for Dior Beauty at ba-reps.com