Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010

Zaha Hadid

The first time I experienced Zaha Hadid's work — in 2000, at an exhibit of 20 years of her designs at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London — I had a visceral reaction. The sensuality, the effortlessness, the sculptural quality of her work resonated with me immediately. She was taking these elements to the next dimension with architecture. I was mesmerized by the scale and form of her designs. I had to meet this woman.

Zaha's work evokes that passion. Her buildings are like a gust of wind — organic, forceful and utterly natural. Her oeuvre is diverse: she has done structures from the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany, to the Terminus Hoenheim-Nord in Strasbourg, France, to the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, Ohio. Then there are her products, interiors and furniture. I couldn't imagine opening my flagship Madison Avenue store without her signature pieces in it.

When I finally met Zaha, I found she personified the work. Strong. Sensual. Iconic. She commands the space around her — not in an imposing way but in a way that seduces you with excitement. She's got great personal style — her hair, her voice, her clothes, her luminosity. She is a woman of culture. Born and raised in Iraq, she bridges East and West with pure sophistication.

To me, Zaha's womanliness is what makes her designs so compelling. She brings a female sensibility and a goddess's touch. Her work is light and lyrical, like an Asian artisan's brushstroke captured forever in the environment. Because her approach is so international, her designs are comfortable anywhere in the world. However you view her work, Zaha, 59, is a visionary. Her style is legendary now and completely original. Whether it's a building or a sofa, you know you're experiencing a unique, individual expression. Zaha is a woman and an artist of her time — and yet she is very much ahead of it too.

Karan is the chief designer of Donna Karan Intl. and the founder of Urban Zen Foundation

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See pictures of Zaha Hadid's work.