Diane Von Furstenberg, Iconic Fashion Designer
Diane von Furstenberg talks about her transition into the American fashion industry and the breakthrough her wrap dress creation made for women.
Diane von Furstenberg
Iconic Fashion Designer
Diane von Furstenberg on her breakout success, career rebirth, and embracing women's strength and femininity.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: I never knew what I wanted to do. But I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be an independent woman, a woman who could pay for her bills, a woman who can run her own life. And I became that woman.
I came to New York. I was 22 years old. I was a young princess. I had married a beautiful, good-looking prince.
I went to see the man that I worked for. And I said, listen, I'm moving to America. And I'm going to get married and have a child.
But I really, really want to work. Would you allow me to make a few samples from your factory? And I'm going to try to sell them in America. And that's what I did.
I started with little jersey dresses. And then there was a little wrap top. One day I just thought, it would be nice to make that top into a dress.
I took a small ad in "Women's Wear". And I was sitting on a wide cube. And when I saw the picture, the cube was too big and too white. So I said, oh. And I promise you, without thinking, I wrote, "Feel like a woman. Wear a dress."
And that picture and that phrase stayed with me forever. Little did I know that this was going to be the key of my fortune and the key of everything.
1976 was a big year for me. I was on the cover of "Newsweek". I was on the cover of "Interview". I was on the front page of the "Wall Street Journal".
Women were wearing a lot of pants and a lot of very hard clothes. And my clothes was 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. It doesn't mean that if you're a feminist, you have to look like a truck driver.
Everything I touched went to gold. And whatever I made sold. But when you grow so fast, it doesn't always go up. It goes up, it goes down. And all of a sudden one day, I'm stuck with $4 million of inventory and that nobody wants anymore. That was pretty scary.
The reason I started again is because I realized that young women-- models and actresses-- were buying the old dresses in the vintage shops. And I thought, you know what? I should go back. And I did.
The dress is now much more than a dress. We have a huge collection, stores all over the world. It was major what happened to me the first time, because I lived an American dream. But to me, it's much more amazing to see that 37 years later. That dress is still relevant and still worn by very young women.
You just have to be confident and just go for it. And be a woman. Never forget to be a woman.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: The most important relationship in life is the relationship you have with yourself first. If you keep that good and healthy, then you can have a great relationship with other people. The earlier you learn how to count on yourself, the better off you are. Because you can't be happy with anyone if you're not happy with yourself.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: What I deplore in what is happening now in women's role is those Housewives of New Jersey, Housewives of Miami. I mean what-- and I-- not them, but giving an example to young girls that the secret of happiness is how much Botox you had, or, you know, how much clothes. It's all very materialistic.
It's all linked to the same thing. It's not about what you look like, but it's about who you are and what your character is.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: I was born in Belgium, after the war. I was very different than everybody else because I had black, curly hair when everybody was blond. And my mother gave me-- made me very independent and strong. And the most important thing she taught me is that fear is not an option.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: You know, I have never met a woman who is not strong. They don't exist. But sometimes they don't show their strength.
It's a brother. It's a father. It's a relationship.
It's a religion, or it's themselves. They're just insecure. And then a tragedy happens. And all of a sudden, insecurity is gone, and the woman's strength comes out. So it may as well come out before the tragedy.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: I'm very involved in an organization called Vital Voices which really helps women leaders all over the world. And every time I meet these women, I am always so humbled by them because they do so much. And I-- I mean, you know, whether it is a Somali mom who was practically born in the brothel, and who now has orphanages and schools. I mean, it's these women who had so much against them and not only survived themselves, but help others to survive. That is amazingly inspiring.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: I always joke that I had three children-- a son, and daughter, and a brand. The son and the daughter were in college, and they were doing really well and great. And the brand had disappeared. It was just awful.
It was in the hands of lots of people. It had lost all its point of view. It meant nothing.
And that was really hard for me. And I tried to kind of get it back. Or-- all people who had the name-- try to motivate them. And nobody wanted to hear from me.
To a point, I actually got cancer in my tongue. And I think it's because I just couldn't express myself. And so gradually, I got the name back. And then about 12 years ago, I started again.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: My mother was an extraordinary woman. She was very, very tiny. And yet, very, very, very strong.
When she was 20, she got arrested and went to the concentration camps. She was in Auschwitz, and in Ravensbruck, and she weighed 49 pounds when she came back, which was less than her bones were supposed to be. And she gained her health back, all her weight back.
She was engaged to my father. He came back to Belgium, they got married. And the doctor said, I think it's better that you don't have a child. You know, wait a few years, because you're too weak. And of course I was born very quickly after. So my birth was a miracle.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: Women should use their sexuality. Women should use their legs. Women-- I mean, we have lots of advantages. I mean, we can wear makeup, we can wear clothes, we could charm. I mean, lots of things that we can do. Men and women are two different animals, completely. And you just, as a woman, have to learn how to be strong and-- and seductive.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: Pursuing your dreams is the most important thing. You should always pursue your dream. But before pursuing your dreams, you have to crystallize and clarify and understand what your dream is, and that is the hardest thing. Execution is easy or easier.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: I think women should have children. I think women should have an identity outside the home. I absolutely believe that more and more. In this office, we're 97% women. We started 12 years ago. I think we have had about 30 babies. They come, they have the babies, they come back. Everybody's happy.
Some have babies on their own. You know, people often ask me, and say, well, you know, how can you combine the husband, the children, and the work? And I always say that the work and the children are OK. The hardest thing is the husband.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: I was raised in a way that my mother always thought it was to be a woman was a superior thing, not an inferior. So when she referred to men she used to say, oh, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH], you know, poor man. So I we don't have-- in my family, we certainly don't feel inferior by being girls.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: I don't know that it's ambition that drove me in as much as making things happen. Have an idea, make it happen. My granddaughter-- one of my granddaughter told me, she asked me the other day, she said, what is your favorite thing about your job? And because it was her who asked me, I, you know, I paused, and I thought about it, and then I said, well, I like to have ideas and make them happen.