By  on January 23, 2008

NEW YORK — Over the years, Diane von Furstenberg has posed for artists like Andy Warhol, Francesco Clemente and Anh Duong, and more photographers than she probably cares to remember. But when it came to her first major foray into print advertising since relaunching her label over a decade ago, the designer made a strategic decision to stay out of the picture.

"I want to differentiate the person from the brand," she said. "The person is one thing that is so attached to the label because I am the founder, but then there is also the brand, and I thought it should have another face. It's also about the legacy."

With the campaign, von Furstenberg is opening a new chapter for her label. The designer's business has expanded rapidly in recent years, and von Furstenberg now sells her dresses in 56 countries, with 22 freestanding boutiques worldwide. It was time, she said, to take it to the next level and brand her line with a clearly defined DNA that could inform future categories such as beauty, accessories and the home for decades to come.

This being DVF, though, it wasn't just going to be another campaign featuring the model of the moment in pieces from her most recent collection. She enlisted French artist François-Marie Banier, model Natalia Vodianova and ad man David Lipman to create the visuals, which will make their debut in March issues of select fashion and lifestyle magazines.

Von Furstenberg has known Banier for 35 years, having met him with her then-husband, the late Egon von Furstenberg, on a trip to Luxor, Egypt. In the early stages of his career, Banier became known for his striking photographs of Samuel Beckett, Silvana Mangano and Vladimir Horowitz. Later on, he added writing to his images, a technique that piqued von Furstenberg's interest at a recent Banier exhibit in Berlin. "When I saw that show, I began to think, and then I had this idea," she recalled.

"I sent David to Paris," she said. "I wanted him to stay in my apartment so he would be around my things and I arranged the rendezvous at François-Marie's atelier and they clicked."Then we had to see who it was going to be," she added. "He either wanted me or do a still life, but I said, 'No, this is fashion.' Because he didn't want a model, I thought, who can I use, whose beauty do I respect not only from the outside, but also her strength of character. Natalia is 25 now, she is a top model, but also married to an aristocrat and has three kids. She is the head of this huge foundation, but 10 years ago or even less, she was selling apples in a market outside of Moscow. I was always inspired by her character, her dignity and her strength."

Banier photographed Vodianova on the Paris streets on a rainy day, and in a studio in New York. There was no fashion stylist to pick the clothes, hair stylist to prep the hair or make-up artist — just the model herself, Banier and Lipman were present on the shoot. Vodianova had been to von Furstenberg's Meatpacking District flagship two weeks earlier to make her own wardrobe picks for the shoot.

"We went outside, and just walked around and talked," Vodianova recalled of the day and a half in Paris. "François-Marie would take pictures of me and, sometimes, he saw something special, he would...say, 'Don't move.' Then he would take the picture."

The photos portray Vodianova in powerful black-and-white photographs, with Banier adding dashes of color and his free thoughts in his signature handwriting. The images don't hawk a certain dress, but convey the spirit of the fashion house and its charismatic founder.

"Diane wanted a spirit, and she really asked me as an artist," Banier said. "This is an interpretation of what I feel about her work. It has soul, it's about femininity, about a feeling, about what she wants to do, and my feeling about color and interpretation."

Von Furstenberg hopes the images, which will be placed in the magazines as special gate-folds, will convey to readers myriad qualities that define her brand. Lipman added, "When you think about Diane von Furstenberg, you think about her. This is still an expression of her, but it takes it from a brand point of view. It's no longer her in the ads, it's not the Warhol of her or the lips. It's passing the mantle to the that the brand can go out. But it is still everything about the character she built her company on."On a similar note, von Furstenberg also put together her first brand book filled with photographs of all the things that inform her philosophy of design, from natural environments, bazaars, spices, fabrics and colors to women who inspire her, and her family. The brand book juxtaposes some of her quotes, such as "Women inspire me, I design to inspire them," with brand statements. Case in point, "I always wanted to live a man's life in a woman's body" corresponds to images of Wonder Woman and the company statement, "We help women to be who they want to be."

The designer said cementing her DNA will serve her company well as it embarks on brand extensions such as accessories, beauty and home. "It shows the emotion and all the layers underneath you never see," she said.

Never short of an anecdote, von Furstenberg drew a parallel — albeit an abstract one — with a backstage visit at a Kabuki performance on her first trip to Japan. "It's supposed to be a young virgin but, in truth, it is a middle-aged man with a wig," she said. "This man first puts white things on himself, then they bring him layers of skirts. One will be green with white carrots, one is red with blue, and then another one is a plaid — layers and layers of different colors and patterns. The top layer is black. On stage, nobody knows of all these colors underneath but the actor, and therefore it's all in his behavior. Sometimes the layers don't have to be seen, but they create the depth and the authenticity."

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