Sept. 14 2006 10:50 AM

Event 2: A New Yorker "Talk of the Town" Piece






Donna's World

By Michael Specter


       On the surface, through the haze of incense and the chanting of monks, the party seemed sublime. But if you looked hard enough you could see the agony in Donna Karan's deep black eyes.

       True, this was her night to rule the Hamptons--a benefit at Mort Zuckerman's estate for her charity, the National Prostate Cancer Coalition. The designer's best friend, Barbra Streisand, appeared beside her in a cloud of jasmine, draped in a pewter, off the shoulder, fitted-bodice gown that Donna cut especially for her.

       "I love Donna for many reasons," Barbara confided to a few friends before making an early departure with her beau, James Brolin. "But one of them is that she is a magician. Her clothes always make my tushy disappear."

       As she chatted in the chilly fall air, Buddhist monks tossed rose petals on the hoods of arriving limousines (and on the rotor of Mr. Zuckerman's helicopter when it landed). Demi looked ravishing, wrapped like a mystic in organza--her hair still shorter than her husband's. Bruce wore his favorite Donna tux with a solid-gold Cartier cigar clipper dangling from a watch fob. The wine (and beet juice) each flowed freely and the crabs--presented on beds of Moroccan shale--were spiced to perfection. So why could the hostess be sulking? "Look it's a nice event," said Sally Quinn, the Washington writer and socialite, to anybody who would listen. "Nice for a colon cancer party in November." She let those last five words fall like boulders from her mouth, and then continued. "I mean let's face it," said Ms. Quinn, whose husband, former Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee, walked away as soon as the words colon cancer were out of her mouth, "all the good diseases are taken." Indeed they are. Even the questionable cause of freedom for Tibet seems oversubscribed at the moment (which, Liz Smith suggested, was why neither Richard Gere nor Brad Pitt were invited tonight).

       You don't see Elizabeth Taylor raising money for AIDS in the off season. Harper's Bazaar Editor Elizabeth Tilberis has devoted much of her energy to ovarian-cancer research. And of course Ralph Lauren's Breast Cancer Fundraisers are at this point almost as important to the fashion industry as his shows.

       So Ms. Karan had a bit of a problem before her. She needed good publicity--in fact the whole marketing strategy of her failing company is based on her fundamental goodness. (Take a peek at her home page. I particularly recommend the Woman to Woman section on personal toxicity.)

       Despite $100 million losses from her vastly overextended business this year, her $1,200 black jersey dresses and $700 skinny pants still sell as fast as she can turn them out. Still, the Karan empire is in trouble and her team of advisers--Ms. Streisand and Deepak Chopra--the Indian oracle of luxurious minimalism--first among them, came to the conclusion that a fund-raiser was necessary. Since an associate of Ms. Karan's developed prostate cancer last year--and the disease remained unclaimed by any other celebrity--she decided to make it her own.

       We can beat prostate cancer with Eastern medicine, good nutrition, research, and meditation," Ms. Karan told the assembled guests. She may be the first person to publicly link Eastern medicine and meditation to the defeat of a disease that seems to be a direct side effect of eating too much fat for too many years. Last year 317,000 Americans were diagnosed with prostate cancer. "We need to reduce the stigma from prostate cancer," she said. "There is no reason to hide from it." At that point Mark Wahlberg, better known until recently as Marky Mark, spit up whatever he was drinking.

       Earlier in the evening, before playing a medley of rap tunes and a few recent compositions from the film Boogie Nights, he dedicated his efforts to Frank Zappa, who died of prostate cancer several years ago.

       "Frank Zappa?" said Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf, a prostate cancer survivor, incredulously. "Wasn't he married to Jane Fonda?"

       The party came in three parts. A wine session with Barbra and Deepak and Bruce and Demi, for which the invited rich people each paid $5,000. Dinner was cheaper: $1,000 a head, and it was served in Mr. Zuckerman's converted barn, which in keeping with the designer's exotic religious beliefs was decorated as a mediation garden, complete with power crystal displays. Just outside, Tibetan prayer wheels spun slowly in the wind.

       Even Mr. Chopra, who preaches that being rich is politically correct, stayed for hours. Besides teaching Ms. Karan how to cleanse herself daily with fruit juice and colonic irrigation, Mr. Chopra now spends most of his time managing the stress of the world's richest and most successful people.

       "I don't know," said Ruth Messinger, looking just a tad out of place standing next to Barry Diller. "If he can help Donna maybe he could have helped me too."

Michael Specter is a Moscow correspondent for the New York Times.


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