Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Polish of a Princess, Heart of a Gypsy...

Its the late 60's; imagine you're 18 and studying Economics in Switzerland, you meet a guy, a prince no less, and he whisks you away and offers you a title and his hand, then you wed and a child closely follows. Via Switzerland and Paris, you then move to Italy to work as an apprentice to a textile manufacturer where you learn cut, colour and fabrics.   By 1970 with a small investment ($30,000) you design your own range of dresses.

A young Diane von Furstenberg

Next comes New York where in 1971 another child arrives but by 1972 your marriage ends.  You work hard and continue to be out and about and make an impact on the very exciting and fashionable crowd - Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol, Francesco Scavullo... they are enamoured of you with your exotic dark eyes and mesmerising cheekbones, vivacity and sensuality, your polish of a princess and the heart of a gypsy.   Once Diana Vreeland puts you on the schedule for Fashion week,  your wrap dresses are a hit - and so begins another renaissance.   Your business grows and in 1975, 15,000 dresses are sold per week thanks to their simplicity, modernity and elegance.  In the same week that Gerald Ford won his presidency in 1976, Newsweek put you on the cover instead, with an article and the quote 'the most marketable woman since Coco Chanel'.  Move over Mr President!

1976 working in the studio
Photo: Bert Glinn

Its a glamorous life but it's also hard work.  There are more designs, the fragrance (Tatiana), a cosmetics line and by the mid 80's you move back to France and go into publishing.   By 1990 you need to reconnect with your customers and so begins a new era of home-shopping where, over 4 years you generate more than $40million in sales (huge!).   In 1997, you re-launch your company, DVF as a global luxury brand and it speaks to entirely new, younger, modern audience, who by now have been scouring the vintage stores to find originals of your versatile jersey wrap dress (it's the whole 18-20 years of fashion cycle theory that I have!).  A business memoir, a fine jewellery collection with H.Stern in the U.S. and a star on the Fashion Walk of Fame come your way, as does another marriage in 2001.  But when Michelle Obama wears your DvF Chain Link print wrap dress on the White House Christmas card in 2008- it all goes up a notch again.  There's a retrospective exhibition in Moscow, Sao Paolo and Beijing by 2011, a DVF home collection, a GAP kids collection which was blogged about all over the internet (including here) and a denim collaboration with Current/Elliot in 2012.  And last month, the launch of the DVF designed penthouse on luxury Hayman Island in Australia (see images below).   Of course we love Diane for being such an enigmatic representation of Non-Ageist Style too, that we featured her as one of our glorious style mavens in this post  (here).   This year Forbes magazine also named Diane the most powerful woman in fashion... Talk about a busy lady!

We've all read about how her chic little wrap dress captured the fashion mind of a generation of independent, strong women in the 70's - luxe jersey, easy to wear, sexy, and modern.  We've all seen how she was emulated in a Warhol screenprint, and read about her 2005 Lifetime Achievement honours received at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) for her impact on fashion on such a global stage and her election to the Presidents role at the CFDA which she still holds.  But the thread that runs through Diane's dresses and ranges is her commitment to empowering women through her philanthropic work.  I really love that!  Empowering and mentoring women, entrepreneurs, mothers, creatives - the modern, working woman, a truly unsung hero.

Most recently, Diane, together with Anna Wintour,  worked to establish Fashion for Hurricane Sandy Relief, offering an online auction of 'fashion' experiences to bidders from lunching with Diane, to attending a fashion show in NY with Anna Wintour or meeting Michael Kors.

DVF Spring 2013

DVF Spring 2013

Some images of the Hayman Island Penthouse that Diane personally decorated and a photo of her backstage after one of her shows

I don't mean to sound flippant, but that's Diane von Furstenberg in a nutshell.  A hardworking ethic which I think was definitely handed down from her parents - a Romanian born father who emigrated to Belgium and a Greek born mother who was a holocaust survivor - who Diane has spoken about influencing her life with the motto 'Fear is not an option'.  And although Diane has obviously been privy to lots more opportunities than the average female in the early 70's, you can only ride the coat-tails of someone else's name for so long... I believe it's the underdog mentality of her childhood years, and indeed even marrying into royalty which was not approved of at the time (being jewish and pregnant), and that inner strength & humanity of her mothers' experiences that have really propelled Diane von Furstenberg onto this global stage that she enjoys.   After a lauded career that spans four decades now, Diane still maintains 'Children are my greatest creation."     Deep down, I get the sense that Diane is an Earth Mother don't you?

Sources: Wikipedia & DVF
View video of Diane promoting Fashion for Hurricane Sandy Relief here.
Interview with Diane and how the fashion world has changed from the 70's to now.
More images of DVF designed penthouse at Hayman Island, Australia.


Audrey said...

Beautiful Helen, such a great post with a lot of information about a remarkable women!

Anonymous said...

Her story is truly fascinating, isn't it? I have had her autobiography on my wish list for so long, I would really like to read about her life in her own words.

Liz said...

Great post.!130 Love her clothes, didn't kmow much about her, but am inspired to read her autobiography.

classiq said...

Such a fascinating story! I love her! Every time I read an interview with her I feel like I'm learning so much.

Neda said...

She is an amazing woman, incredibly smart and talented. I love her life philosophies..and, course, the dresses! :)

Rachael T said...

Thanks H, fabulous snap shot of an amazing lady, R

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