Gabby & Donna Karan on Sharing the Passion

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02_downtown_karan_tutto_051_v1_BWBy designing her husband’s Italian restaurant to be a neighborhood spot for local TriBeCa families, Gabby Karan De Felice shares her mother, Donna Karan’s, motto about addressing people.

Gabby Karan De Felice has been attuned with a sense of good design, business understanding and the power of giving from her childhood travelling and watching her mother, fashion tycoon Donna Karan, in action. But Gabby Karan De Felice has found her own path, which can be seen at her and her husband’s southern Italian eatery, Tutto il Giorno. Located on Franklin Street in TriBeCa, it has all the attributes of a happening downtown destination. With an open dining area and opulent accouterments, from dynamic light fixtures to floral arrangements in elegant vases, the space reflects the expert aesthetic of its designer. But her vision for the restaurant reaches beyond making another trendy urban haunt.

“TriBeCa is such an interesting venue for us because, growing up in New York, it’s such a great area,” explains Karan De Felice, “It’s so culturally driven, it’s all about residents, and becoming a local spot is what we’re placing all of our energy in right now.”

Now that Tutto il Giorno (or “Tutto,” as Karan De Felice and husband Gianpaolo call it) has been open for about a year and a half, Karan De Felice is abuzz with ideas on how to connect with the community they have joined. She is even formulating a prospective Sunday brunch for families, complete with Italian board games, scopa (an Italian card game) and projections of classic films on the wall.

“A restaurant is about multi generations, and we’ve extended our home to a place we’ve done in New York City,” she explains.

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Having grown up in New York, Karan De Felice and her mother celebrate the city frequently within their various ventures. It is even the namesake of Donna Karan’s foremost fashion brand, Donna Karan New York.

“New York is my hometown; it’s where I was born and raised. But far more that, it’s the world in one place. There’s an energy and spirit that calls us all there, the best and the brightest of every field—innovators, artists, entrepreneurs,” explains Donna Karan, “New York fuels the creative spirit. You only have to walk down the street to feel the excitement, the buzz—it can be exhausting at times, but it’s always inspiring.”

Family has been a primary motif in Karan De Felice’s Italian experience. Traveling frequently with her mother growing up, she would go back and forth from Italy, aiding in the purchase of fabrics for prospective clothing lines. She also met her husband in Southern Italy and became immersed in its culture—culinary and otherwise—through him.

“There’s nothing like seeing New York through a New Yorker and Italy through an Italian.”

Nostalgic for his Neapolitan mother’s cuisine, in 2006 Gianpaolo and his close friend David Mayer dreamed up a plan that would satisfy their desire for authentic European cuisine in the Hamptons. Together with Maurizio Marfoglia and Larry Maria Baum, they opened Tutto il Giorno in Sag Harbor.

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Gabby Karan De Felice, along with being its designer, opened an Urban Zen lifestyle store, a retail and lifestyle venture of her mother’s, next to the restaurant, creating an experience for customers that was cumulative of the family’s many backgrounds and talents. They later opened Tutto South Hampton and followed with their TriBeCa location in 2014. She has helped shaped the atmosphere with both her mother’s chic aesthetic and her mother-in-law’s Southern Italian traditions in mind. The cuisine is impeccably representative of their Neapolitan roots, with dishes like Spaghetti Pomodoro and Cioppino that are fresh and light and celebrate the Mediterranean elements that comprise them.

“We know our food is consistent, delicious and authentically Italian. It’s about building off of that, not making it too trendy, too overpopulated…just being a place where people are comfortable and where they want to come a lot,” she explains.

04_downtown_karan_tutto_92+100_v1Her relationship with her mother is one of mutual support, whether or not they are collaborating directly. Growing up so close to her mother and her work, Gabby Karan De Felice inherited an eye for design that is eminent in her bloodline, though she chose not to utilize it in fashion.

“It was very important for me to kind of carve out my own path, and that’s why we went into this hospitality world,” she explains. “I wanted to do something unique and different from what I grew up with.”

The two weave in and out of each other’s endeavors, offering both support and creative insight. Donna Karan’s fashion events have been hosted at her daughter’s restaurants, and she is Tutto’s “best customer,” frequenting the restaurant regularly.

Another trait shared by the mother-daughter duo is charity and philanthropy. Karan De Felice can attest to the prevalence of her mother’s sense of giving. From the time Karan De Felice was born, “she has taught me that we are fortunate and we are lucky and the more you give, the more you get. Her motto is, ’It’s not about dressing people, it’s about addressing them.’”

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One collaborative philanthropic endeavor is Super Saturday, which is a celebratory event and sale of reduced-price luxury retail. Hosted by Kelly Ripa and Karan herself, the sale’s funds go toward ovarian cancer research.

“It’s a nice mother and daughter cause that she started that I could also help carry though.”

Karan De Felice has also recently been involved with Solving Kids Cancer, which focuses on aggressive childhood cancers with low survival rates.

Donna Karan has involved herself in many charitable enterprises throughout her career. Her most recent endeavor has been her lifestyle conglomerate Urban Zen. Baring the soulful ethos of its creator, Urban Zen stores offer luxury men’s and women’s apparel that is characterized by a mindful artisanal essence. The brand is also supplemented by a foundation, which helps to promote awareness and aid for cultural preservation, healthcare and education.

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“I’ve always seen Urban Zen as a marriage of commerce and philanthropy, a business model for a soulful economy. The more desirable we make the product, the more it will sell and benefit others, whether it’s the artisans that make the product or…our UZIT [Urban Zen Integrative Therapy] program,” she states. “Conscious consumerism is definitely the future—people care about the intention behind what they buy.”

With Urban Zen expanding into the wholesale business and having stores in several different cities, Donna’s business acumen is just as pertinent to Urban Zen as it is to the well-established DKNY. Both mother and daughter emanate an unmistakable excitement for their businesses and what they stand for, resulting in the infectious success they have seen in their various enterprises.

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Along with the growth of Tutto, Karan De Felice has even broader hospitality aspirations that include a boutique hotel and a lifestyle line. Though it is clear that she has the same designer’s aesthetic, business savvy and charitable tendencies that her iconic mother possesses, she is keen on translating them into her own market. Though a hospitality takeover could be in her future, she is content at present to grow her current business.

“Right now I’m on the path to making this place the best neighborhood place it can be.”

-by Johanna Silver

This article originally appeared in Downtown Magazine Spring 2016 issue. 

Photography by Russell James
Hair: Joyce Cohen for Pierre Michel Salon
Makeup: Berta Camal at Jed Root
Donna Karan and Gabby Karan De Felice clothing by Urban Zen

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