This isn’t the kind of excitement I usually feel when waiting in a lecture theatre, however, I’m not usually waiting on royalty. Admittedly Diane Von Furstenberg gave up her title of princess a long time ago, yet she was indeed married to a prince and it is the royal name that carries the brand today. Make no mistake in thinking that her success was down to anything but her determination to succeed as the woman Forbes magazine named the most powerful woman in fashion. It is this designer and business woman that walks into the theatre in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London ready for the question and answer – albeit with the grace of a princess – wearing a dress of her own classic design with knee high black boots.
“Most fairytales end with the prince…mine began with marrying the prince” sighs Diane, and it was not until her divorce from the prince that her own success really took off. After learning about print and textiles she created the iconic wrap dress that was at first a ‘shirt dress, a t-shirt dress, a wrap top with a matching skirt – that became the dress and that was it!’. It is this famous wrap dress that Diane puts a lot of her success down to, a dress that sold five million the first time it was created and has sold considerably more since. It is a timeless piece that somebody once told her “was the dress you could get the guy in and his mother won’t mind”. This quick wit and eye for timeless fashion has kept DVF in the business for so long as we mark 40 years of the wrap dress – and the brand – this year. Diane never anticipated the success of her dress, a dress that was never intended to make a fashion statement yet as she very rightly points out has become ‘much more than that.’ We were finally given a dress that every woman could wear and for every occasion.
When Diane first created the dress in the 70’s it was groundbreaking – a dress that epitomised feminine sexuality. The 70’s was a time of liberation and expression, Warhol himself painting Diane, although she brushes this off as at the time Warhol was “just a guy hanging round”. After branching away from fashion into other ventures she returned to the pleas of us women as we searched the vintage rails for her designs and prints. Thus the dress was re-born for the new, and the old, generation. Since then her dress has been worn by many influential women from Michelle Obama to Olivia Palmero, and Diane is right “even if we went back to big shoulders…we could still have the wrap dress!”.
For Diane she had always known “the woman I wanted to be…a woman in charge of my life” and it is this empowerment she seeks to replicate for other women – not only through her fashion but through philanthropy such as her work as director of The Diller – von Fürstenberg Family Foundation. She also takes mentoring young women and it is this strong attitude that makes her such a wonderful role model and inspirational woman who has truly lived up to her dream of living “a man’s life in a woman’s body”. She describes herself as a feminist so when questioned over her famous dress and fashion combined with feminist values simply says “you can be a feminist and show your legs…and if a man wants to cross dress then the dress is perfect!”.
So, I ask, does the dream of working in the fashion industry match up to the reality? “Sure, if you dream big enough!”
With a multi million dollar business, an iconic dress, and such an empowering attitude it is evident why Diane has become the woman she wanted to be. It certainly inspires the question as we are soon to embark on our own career paths; who are the women that we want to be?