TODAY | November 06, 2012
>> of high fashion but there's more to the woman behind the famous label. she has a remarkable story of love and loss and now a mission to carry on the legacy of her soul mate , the man who helped build her brand. here's nbc's kristen dahlgren.
>> reporter: she is a force in american fashion. the name on a million labels.
>> hello, brooklyn!
>> reporter: best friends to barbra, she's recently dressed the icon for her return to brooklyn concert but donna karan 's latest project is by far her most personal.
>> it's taken me a while to put this all together. i don't want to cry, that's crazy.
>> reporter: an art exhibit and companion book, the works of her late husband stephen weiss , most never seen outside their inner circle . just a few in the public really knew the man behind the design superstar.
>> where would donna karan be without him?
>> wouldn't. wouldn't. stephen was my partner in business. but you're an artist, honey. what do you know about the fashion industry , but stephen knew everything.
>> theirs is a love story .
>> the minute i met stephen i knew he was it. you know, i met him when i was 18 years old.
>> reporter: it was ten years later they would finally reconnect, join their lives, their families and together build one of the world's biggest labels, revolutionizing the way we dress, bringing easy uptown chic to women everywhere, as the label took off with done that karan and dkny she was called the queen of seventh avenue but never alone, stephen was at her side from every decision to launching a men's line to creating a fragrance.
>> we cannot design clothes, hem lines go up and down but a fragrance will last forever.
>> reporter: stephens personally designed the perfume bottle but the pony-tailed artist handled the business side taking the company public in a massive deal.
>> i love these pieces personally because they remind me the most of stephen .
>> reporter: his creativity is clear in his art and somewhat quirky, he brought out the unexpected in the high-powered fashion mogul.
>> every night we listened to obi-wan kenobi.
>> reporter: he worked in an endless variety of medium, clay, paint, sculpture.
>> shall i make a pair for the runway.
>> reporter: look at that.
>> this would definitely be donna karan .
>> reporter: but the couple esteemed to have it all soon found out that stephen had lung cancer , and everything changed. he died in 2001 , never living to see his larger than life series completed and leaving donna with a huge request.
>> right before he passed away, he said, donna, whatever you do, take care of the nurses so i have a mission that i'm on.
>> reporter: the request inspired karan's urban zen initiative bringing help to hospitals and helping after the haitian earthquake but in putting together the art exhibit she found out how much she also inspired him when a love note never sent fell out of one of his sketch books.
>> donna, thank you for finding me. when shy ship was disabled on this planet. you became my universe.
>> reporter: a love story cut short but far from finished.
>> i believe i am carrying out his legacy. i believe stephen is here every single day. i am connected with him more now than i've ever been.
>> reporter: for "today," kristen dahlgren, nbc news, new york.
>> the exhibit is called connecting the dots. it's open until december 22nd here in new york city .