The tragedy and triumph of Diane von Fürstenberg: ‘My mother taught me fear is not an option’ | Fashion

Diane von Fürstenberg picks up on the primary ring. We’re talking by telephone, not on Zoom, so I begin by asking her the place she is in the intervening time. “Oh, it’s very difficult,” she says. A drawn-out, gravelly sigh crackles down the road. “I’m in a really contemplative place. I’m virtually 77, and I’ve had an enormous life. A folkloric life. An excellent journey. And now it’s time to take a look at the stability sheet of that life.”

I used to be truly questioning about her geographical whereabouts, not her philosophical ones, however the reply is pure Von Fürstenberg. She has all the time been one for the large image, for the grand gesture, for feeling all of the feels. Even the wrap costume which made her fame and her fortune – an icon which turns 50 subsequent 12 months – was solely ever a method to an finish, a means for Von Fürstenberg to get the life she needed. As somewhat lady, she says, she didn’t know what she needed to do when she grew up, however she did know what sort of lady she needed to be. And that was a lady in cost. “I didn’t know the specifics of what that meant, however I completely knew the sensation. And I grew to become the girl I needed to be, due to that costume. I created the costume, however actually the costume created me.”

A model poses in Diane von Fürstenberg’s living room, wearing a wrap dress that was part of the designer’s 1975 spring collection. The painting of Von Fürstenberg on the wall is by Andy Warhol.
A mannequin poses in Diane von Fürstenberg’s lounge, sporting a wrap costume that was a part of the designer’s 1975 spring assortment. The portray of Von Fürstenberg on the wall is by Andy Warhol. {Photograph}: WWD/Penske Media/Getty Photos

Von Fürstenberg could be very a lot in cost. She will be able to’t assist however take the reins of any state of affairs, or any dialog, which makes her virtually uninterviewable, however fabulously entertaining to hearken to. Finally, I discover out that she is speaking to me from her residence in Manhattan, a glittering glass penthouse with an unlimited leopard-print carpet and views over the Excessive Line. I’m unhappy to not get her on digital camera, as a result of she is wonderful to have a look at: Joan Collins-esque panache with a Bohemian edge. I noticed her within the flesh not way back, and essentially the most photographed cheekbones of the Nineteen Seventies, as per the New York Occasions, are nonetheless in full impact. “It’s great to grow old,” she says. “I don’t perceive why folks don’t prefer it. Anyway, I all the time preferred to look somewhat bit destroyed, you recognize?”

Diane von Fürstenberg at work in her New York office in 1973.
Diane von Fürstenberg at work in her New York workplace in 1973. {Photograph}: Fairchild Archive/Penske Media/Getty Photos

She has been packing a suitcase to take along with her to Thanksgiving weekend along with her household at Cloudwalk, the Connecticut property she purchased herself for her twenty seventh birthday, when the cheques began rolling in. From there, she is going to journey to Oxfordshire for Voices, a convention run by The Enterprise of Trend web site, the place she might be in dialog with the Pakistani-Canadian film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the primary lady and the primary particular person of color to direct a Star Wars movie (her as but untitled film is due for launch in 2026), who just lately completed a documentary about Von Fürstenberg’s life.

In an business the place most traits are fortunate to outlive for six months, how does one costume final half a century? “That costume is a survivor as a result of it offers a lady the physique language of confidence,” she says. “The methods of dressmaking are about how a lady feels.” Von Fürstenberg by no means studied design, however discovered the craft of material, color and print within the Italian factories of garment maker Angelo Ferretti in her early 20s. At some point, she took a visit to the US to go to her new boyfriend, Prince Egon von Fürstenberg, who she had met at a nightclub in Geneva, and found New York. “After I acquired again to the manufacturing facility, all I may take into consideration was find out how to get again to America. So I made some samples and I went again to New York with a suitcase stuffed with little attire. They had been attractive, however correct. Somebody mentioned to me, ‘It’s a costume you will get a person in, and his mom doesn’t thoughts.’”

The key, she says, is the material. “I bear in mind Christian Lacroix as soon as mentioned to me, ‘Girls make garments, males make costume.’ Male designers don’t like jersey as a result of it’s not significantly lovely to have a look at, however whenever you put on it, you perceive the worth of it, of the way it feels and the way it works on the physique.” Von Fürstenberg, like Donna Karan, Coco Chanel and Sonia Rykiel, is aware of that jersey, unprepossessing on the hanger, grows beloved within the wardrobe.

Karlie Kloss leads the runway during the Von Fürstenberg spring 2016 show at New York fashion week.
Karlie Kloss leads the runway through the Von Fürstenberg spring 2016 present at New York trend week. {Photograph}: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Photos

Survival is on the coronary heart of Belgium-born Von Fürstenberg’s story. Her mom, Liliane Halfin, was taken to Auschwitz on a cattle practice at 21, and later moved to Ravensbrück. When liberation got here 13 months later, “She was a bag of bones in a subject of ashes”. Hospitalised at a close-by American base, medical doctors didn’t count on her to reside, not to mention go on to have youngsters. However, reunited along with her fiance, she married, and gave start to Von Fürstenberg inside 18 months. “I used to be born so near being liberated that I take into account myself a survivor, too,” she says. “My start was a triumph of affection over distress. That’s my flag. My mom used to name me her torch of freedom, and she or he needed me to have an enormous life.” The legacy appears like rather a lot for somewhat lady to deal with. Her mom would bless her mattress each night time: grateful for the sheets, the blanket, the pillow and the heat, after sleeping on a wood plank shared with rats within the focus camps. When Von Fürstenberg was afraid of the darkish, her mom locked her within the closet. “She taught me that worry isn’t an choice.”

Within the febrile local weather of social media, Von Fürstenberg has confronted criticism for expressing sorrow and sympathy for the lack of harmless lives on either side of the Israel-Hamas warfare. There are those that really feel that something lower than full-blooded help for Israel constitutes a betrayal of her household historical past. “I’m completely devastated by what is occurring on this planet,” she says. “I don’t know what to say. I search for the sunshine, I imagine in peace. As a survivor, I’ve the best to imagine in miracles.”

We speak somewhat extra in regards to the horrors of present occasions, about compassion and humanity and the sense of hopelessness shared by so many, however later, a couple of minutes after we end the interview, my telephone rings once more and it’s Von Fürstenberg, involved about how she phrased her ideas. “I don’t wish to communicate out, as a result of there’s nothing I can say and I don’t take phrases flippantly,” she says. Her personal narrative is a fairytale – the miracle child of a Holocaust survivor, who grew up lovely and robust and married a Swiss prince – and this bleak second isn’t any time for fairytales. She is misplaced for phrases.

Diane von Fürstenberg at New York fashion week in 2016.
Diane von Fürstenberg at New York trend week in 2016. {Photograph}: JP Yim/Getty Photos

On every other subject, although, she is something however. Packing all the time sharpens her thoughts, she says. “I’ve had so lots of my finest concepts once I was packing. I’ve been packing suitcases all my life, I’m all the time travelling, and if you understand how to pack, you understand how to reside.” Questions roll off her like water from a duck’s again as she steers her personal conversational course. If I interject she says, “Sure, sure, I’m attending to that,” after which by no means does. It’s onerous to really feel aggrieved, although, as a result of there’s by no means a uninteresting sentence. Within the midst of her paean to the wrap costume which carried her to stardom, she mentions that she has by no means actually worn wrap attire that a lot herself. “I by no means felt like I had the waist,” she says, “so I favor a shirtdress.” Later, enthusing about her forthcoming journey to the UK, she reminisces about her teenage years at boarding faculty in Oxford. “Oxford was the place I found nature,” she recollects, “and in addition the place I misplaced my virginity. I’ve so many good recollections.” I try a follow-up query to the virginity story, however too late. She has moved on.

5 a long time in a notoriously fickle business has been a rollercoaster trip. “Each 20 years, the younger folks uncover me once more. It’s occurred twice already,” she says wryly. The 2000s had been growth time, the 2010s noticed overexpansion, and when Covid hit in 2020, the DVF model got here near chapter. “We had grown very huge, and I had a whole lot of shops, and instantly I used to be dropping cash. I may have bought the model for a fortune to somebody who would have prostituted it. However I didn’t wish to do this.” As an alternative, she closed all however one retailer within the US and streamlined the enterprise, bolstering funds with a strategic associate in Hong Kong, however retaining majority possession within the household. A pared-down operation, with out messy licensing offers to dilute the model, is a part of what the designer calls “a 3rd rebirth” for the label. Talita von Fürstenberg, who at 24 is the oldest of her 5 grandchildren, is now co-chair of the corporate, tasked with bringing the DVF model to era Z.

Andy Warhol (left), Diane von Fürstenberg (centre), and Bianca Jagger (right) at a party in New York in January 1977.
Andy Warhol (left), Diane von Fürstenberg (centre), and Bianca Jagger (proper) at a celebration in New York in January 1977. {Photograph}: WWD/Penske Media/Getty Photos

Earlier this 12 months the model launched a resale platform known as ReWrap. Costs vary from about £40 to about £300. (A brand new DVF wrap costume retails for nearer to £500.) “One of the best ways for a costume to be sustainable is for it to reside for 50 years,” says Von Fürstenberg. “You’ll find a costume in a classic retailer, and it might need lived three lives already, and it’ll nonetheless be in good well being, with no holes.” She’s proper, by the way in which: jersey is hard-wearing, and with no fastenings to interrupt and no elaborations to decay, these attire are nearly indestructible. (My very own leopard-print DVF wrap costume remains to be going robust after 22 years.)

The Swiss prince didn’t final, nevertheless, though he did give her two youngsters and her final identify, they usually remained on pleasant phrases – he died in 2004. Since 2001, she has been married to the billionaire media mogul Barry Diller. In addition to New York and Connecticut, they’ve properties in Beverly Hills – the place they just lately threw an engagement social gathering for his or her mates Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sánchez attended by Oprah Winfrey and Barbra Streisand. In addition they have “a pleasant boat” (Eos, a 92-metre yacht, from which Diane likes to swim for 2 hours a day) and a spot in Venice, the place Von Fürstenberg hopes to spend extra time, when her work schedule permits. “Now that I’m within the winter of my life, all of the items of the puzzle begin to make sense. My youngsters name me The Oracle. I’ve discovered many issues alongside the way in which, and it’s time to share that knowledge.” In the course of the pandemic, she wrote Personal It: The Secret to Life, which is a kind of manifesto of Von Fürstenberg-isms within the type of a dictionary. (Pattern extract: “Ego is a constructive outlook on oneself that may simply grow to be an insufferable flaw when abused. See narcissism.”) “I’m happy with that little e book, as a result of it’s so helpful,” she says. “Do you will have youngsters? A lady? What’s her identify? That’s a ravishing identify. How previous is she? I’ll ship you a duplicate for her …”

Von Fürstenberg with her husband, Barry Diller, at the Met Gala in New York in 2022.
Von Fürstenberg along with her husband, Barry Diller, on the Met Gala in New York in 2022. {Photograph}: Cindy Ord/MG22/Getty Photos for The Met Museum/Vogue

Amorous affairs with Warren Beatty, Omar Sharif and Richard Gere; nights at Studio 54 with Andy Warhol and fellow designer Halston, surviving most cancers. Von Fürstenberg has lived fairly the life, and she or he has saved diaries all through. After I ask if she plans to publish them, she says no. “They’re in French,” she provides, as if this closes the subject. Then, she continues: “A diary is a communication with your self. That’s crucial relationship you should have.” I hope she modifies her thoughts; her memoirs could be a gripping learn.

Diane von Fürstenberg is talking on the Enterprise of Trend VOICES convention for inventive and enterprise business leaders, which runs from 28-30 November.

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