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

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - LIFE STORTY - Words SARAH KOOP­MAN

‘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’.


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

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