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Fashion designers drawn to causes near and dear

Thursday - 12/20/2012, 11:54am  ET

By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL
AP Fashion Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Fashion designers sometimes get to wear their hearts on their sleeves, making their personal connection to charitable causes part of their public lives.

Sometimes the choices of charities seem obvious, such as the recent effort by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Vogue magazine to raise $1.7 million in relief aid for those affected by Superstorm Sandy, which happened in their backyard. Others are driven by more intimate reasons.

Designers explain what drew them to their causes:

_Donna Karan and Urban Zen Foundation.

Karan's husband, Stephan, died in 2001 of lung cancer. It's also when her Urban Zen Foundation was born.

Stephan had asked her to "take care of the nurses," she recalls. "I knew what he meant."

While there's often a lot of deserved focus on the sick person, the caregivers need support, too, she explains.

Urban Zen supports a program of integrative health therapy. "It's a combination of acupuncture, aromatherapy, yoga, reiki and massage. This unique and compassionate program is now in dozens of hospitals and care facilities across the nation. It focuses on the `caring,' which enhances the curing for the patient. And it also takes care of their families, the doctors, and yes, the nurses."

_Michael Kors and God's Love We Deliver.

Kors' commitment to God's Love We Deliver, an organization that delivers more than one million meals per year to house-bound people suffering from illness, isn't a here-today, gone-tomorrow trend. He has been involved for two decades, and this year he was honored with its lifetime achievement award. At the group's annual gala, Kors announced he was donating an additional $5 million.

It's a cause rooted in his own backyard, Kors says. And he finds the dedication he sees at the organization _ including working straight through Superstorm Sandy _ inspiring.

"I am continually dismayed by the scope and magnitude of the global hunger crisis, but it is not an issue just facing third-world countries," he says. "We see it right here in this country and in New York City on a daily basis."

_Tory Burch and the Tory Burch Foundation.

Do what you know: It's what Burch does. The foundation that bears her name targets women who are starting and growing businesses.

"I started the Foundation based on my experience as an entrepreneur and a working mother _ I wanted to support other women entrepreneurs and help them achieve their aspirations," Burch says. "They are an investment in our collective futures. Strong women build strong communities, and women reinvest in their families and local economies."

Participants can receive micro loans, mentorship and business-education opportunities, she explains.

The Foundation was part of her blueprint since launching her label in 2004. Philanthropy, she says, is part of her identity. "There is no greater reward than giving back. It's part of my personal history; it's something I teach my children, and it is woven into the DNA of our company."

_Ralph Lauren and the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention.

Lauren became involved in breast-cancer awareness charities through his friend Nina Hyde, the Washington Post fashion editor who was diagnosed with the disease and died in 1990.

A commitment to the breast cancer cause runs deep through the fashion and beauty industry _ it's largely where all that pink comes from _ but Lauren takes it farther. He helped establish a center for breast cancer research at Georgetown University Medical Center, and he encouraged the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign.

The focus on breast cancer eventually morphed into all cancers, especially in underserved communities. The Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation spearheads the Pink Pony Fund and the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention, a partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

"Seared in my childhood memory," he has said, "is one particular moment when my mother had a health scare and panicked about where she could turn for help."

_Georgina Chapman of Marchesa and the Rose Home.

When Chapman married film producer Harvey Weinstein, they didn't want wedding gifts _ they wanted to start their union by building something meaningful, says Chapman. They collected donations for the Rose Home, a residence for about 50 girls in New Delhi that their trust created from scratch.

Chapman says her British family has longtime ties to India and she particularly wanted to help girls and give them a sense of belonging, self-worth and family. "Most of the girls are permanent residents," she says. "We get legal guardianship of them. Most of the girls are found in the train stations or walking around the streets."

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