I have happily worked on this magazine for 27 years, but meeting a genuine fashion icon is no everyday occurrence for me. And it’s not often we use this space to celebrate a single individual. But Diane von Furstenberg is different.
I had the chance to hear her speak at the American Apparel & Footwear Association’s Annual Executive Summit last month in D.C., and you need only look at this group photo to see how much we ladies especially wanted to stand near her. Yes, she is amazingly stylish and glamorous — look how she rocks a pair of boots at 67! — but what makes her so unique is her true design and business genius (in 2012 Forbes Magazine named her one of the 20 most powerful women in business) and her philanthropic heart.
Photo courtesy of AAFA.
This year, von Furstenberg is celebrating the 40th anniversary of her creation of the wrap dress, which became a symbol of power and independence for women, and landed the designer on the cover of Newsweek in 1976, at which point she had sold more than a million dresses. If her story ended there it would be memorable, but of course it endures. She took a hiatus from fashion (as she says, “You sell your business, they destroy it.”), but she re-launched in 1997, and today her lifestyle global company DVF sells apparel, accessories, luggage, eyewear and home furnishings in more than 70 countries.
A little more about the woman herself. In 2005, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awarded her the Lifetime Achievement Award and the following year named her as its president, a position she has held for eight years (after promising to serve for two). Her tenure there not only has been about mentoring, but she has worked to expose the issue of design piracy. “I wanted to emphasize the importance of design. If we all copy, copy, copy you end up having nothing to copy. It doesn’t matter the price level of the product. We need a refresh of design.”
The CFDA also has developed New York City’s Fashion Manufacturing Initiative (visit cfda.com), indeed a very worthy endeavor. From a personal standpoint, von Furstenberg wants to empower women. Through the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation she has honored women who have overcome tremendous obstacles and gone on to transform not only their lives, but the lives of others, via the DVF Awards, since 2010.
Just as her dresses have been timeless, so too seems von Furstenberg. She says: “I am passionate about technology. I am lucky to be old enough that I danced at Studio 54 and am also still here for the digital age.”
As she talks about opening retail stores, she says there is a way to link brick and mortar and online without bastardizing. “Your stores have to become little embassies. You have to be creative.”
She’s creative all right. Her “The Journey of A Dress” exhibit in L.A. had 45,000 visitors in less than five weeks, and her website encourages fans to tell their wrap dress stories, which will be curated into a book. How does von Furstenberg or any brand stay relevant in this topsy-turvy fashion world?
“You either stay relevant or you don’t,” she says. “Stay open and curious. In the end it’s about confidence. We sell confidence. Stay close to your history and retail it over and over but in different ways. The companies that have the power to last have a story. Go back to the core of it.”
Thanks for the inspiration, Diane. That’s a wrap.
Susan S. Nichols (third from left DVF fan) is publisher of Apparel
and may be reached at [email protected]