DVF THE DRESS DOYENNE
The one-time European princess, who took a chance on a revolutionary silhouette, has changed the face of women in fashion with her 40-year career wrapped in an iconic design
‘Just because YOU ARE A FEMINIST, it doesn’t mean you have to look like A TRUCK DRIVER’
‘I never knew what I wanted to do, but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be – an independent woman, a woman who could pay her bills, a woman who could run her own life. And I became that woman.’ With a career that spans 40 years, Diane von Furstenberg has done more than become an independent woman – she has blazed a trail for the women her brand represents and built a fashion empire that feels immortal. ‘I want to empower women, because I wanted to be an empowered woman,’ she told Harper’s
Bazaar in 2009. ‘I do it through my clothes, I do it through my words.’ And she does it through her example.
Her words were inspired by her mother, Liliane Nahmias, who survived the Nazi concentration camps and taught Diane that ‘fear is not an option’. Arrested in 1944 and sent to a string of camps, including Auschwitz, Liliane survived In 1946, just 18 months after Liliane was released from Auschwitz, Diane was born – ‘I was her victory’, Diane says.
Twenty-two years later, Diane found herself in New York – a princess on the arm of a prince. She met Prince Egon von Fürstenberg at 18, while studying economics at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Despite protestations from his family about her Jewish heritage, the couple married in 1969 and Diane became Her Serene Highness Princess Diane von Fürstenberg. (She lost the title when the couple divorced amicably in 1972, but kept the surname, only dream. ‘The minute I knew I was about to be Egon’s wife, I decided to have a career,’ she told The New York Times in 1977. ‘I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts.’
In 1970, with a $30 000 investment, she began designing women’s clothing and selling samples she had made while working in Italy as an apprentice for textile manufacturer Angelo Ferretti. ‘I told Angelo I was moving to America,’ she told Makers.com in a video interview. ‘I asked if he would allow me to make some samples in his factory – I wanted to try to sell them in America. I started with jersey dresses and then there was a wrap top and then one day I thought, “It would be nice to make that top into a dress.”’
Diane juggled her newfound success with being a mother to two young children – Alexander, born in 1970 and a sensation and it became a symbol of power and independence for generations of women – and a source of empowerment for the young designer herself. ‘It’s the dress that gave me my freedom, paid all my bills, gave me my fame and allowed me to be free,’ she said at the opening of her wrap dress exhibit in Los Angeles in January 2014. The dress was also a marker for sexual liberation, with Diane describing the zipless design as something you could slip on quietly without disturbing a sleeping man. A dress that, according to fashion historian Holly a woman to be ‘dressed in two even less time’.
more than one million wrap on the cover of Newsweek, the cover of Interview, the front page of the Wall Street Journal,’ she told Makers.com. ‘Women were wearing a lot of pants and a lot of hard clothes, and my clothes were very soft and all of a sudden revealed the body. It was very much part of a movement of being a woman and enjoying being a woman. I was always a little bit of a feminist. Just because you are a feminist, it doesn’t mean you have to look like a truck driver.’
Her self-described style is aligned to the virtues of her brand. ‘I like to think that my style and the clothes I design are effortlessly elegant and sexy,’ she told Harper’s Bazaar. ‘I think the word “effortless” is very important. I think that it
But her meteoric rise became an even steeper fall when her wrap dress fell out of fashion’s favour. ‘Everything I touched turned to gold and whatever I made, sold,’ she told Makers.com it doesn’t always go up – and suddenly one day I was stuck with US$4 million of inventory that nobody wanted any more.’ She licenced her label in the 1980s and retreated to Paris, where she took a 12-year break, only relaunching her brand in 1997 – with the wrap dress back at the centre of it all. A new generation of women was scouting her dresses in vintage shops, proving that it had not been a one-hit wonder. Famous women also loved her famously democratic dress, with Madonna, First Lady Michelle Obama, Amy Winehouse and the Duchess of Cambridge all stepping it’s much more amazing that, 40 years later, that dress is still relevant and still worn by young women.’
Throughout her success, her family kept her grounded. ‘I always joked that I had three children: a son, a daughter and a brand. I think women should have children, I think women should have an identity outside of the home. People often ask me, “How can you combine husband, children and work?” and I always say that the work and the children are OK, the hardest thing is the husband!’
after an on-and-off relationship that started in the 1970s. other for 44 years, and he’s loved me so much.’ Their commitment, she says, comes from two important things – ‘respect and space’ – the couple lives in separate homes during the week and spend weekends together. Unconventional, she admits, but not out of character.
and the future of her brand, she told Makers.com that she considers herself incredibly lucky. ‘I am old enough to have danced at Studio 54, but young enough to be involved with Google, when we did Google Glass.’ In her 2013 New York Fashion Week Spring 2013 show, trailblazing as usual, Diane’s models walked down the runway wearing Google’s newest wearable tech solution. Last Diane launched a reality show on E! Entertainment called
House of DVF. The show follows eight young women as they compete to become the next brand ambassador for the iconic label, with Diane mentoring the group herself.
Diane has embraced the ageing process gracefully. ‘ I’m so attracted to women with wrinkles,’ she told Harper’s Bazaar. ‘The wonderful thing about ageing is that you have a past.’ She dismisses cosmetic procedures like is how she looks like herself at her age. better. I’m smarter, I’m more aware. I’m kinder’.
WHERE IT BEGAN...
ABOVE Diane in the doorway of her New York City store in 1987
ABOVE AND RIGHT Diane with models showing off her designs in 1976; On
the cover of Newsweek
THAT’S A WRAP! The wrap dress is enshrined in the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the influence it had on women’s fashion.‘My wrap dress was almost accidental,’ Diane told Harper’s Bazaar in 2009.‘It’s the most traditional shape, like the kimono shape, no buttons or zipper, and it wraps. But what was different about it is that it was made in jersey and it was tied to the body, and therefore it kind of sculpted the body.’
READ MORE To mark 40 years in the industry, Journey of a Dress documents the rich history of the wrap dress. (R943, Rizzoli International Publications)
THE men in her life...
ABOVE With her first husband, Prince Egon von Fürstenberg RIGHT Husband no. 2, media
mogul Barry Diller