NEW YORK — With a fabled career that has soared and occasionally dipped for more than 41 years, it was easy to see how even Diane von Furstenberg could tire of talking about herself.
“Oh, we will never get to the end with all these details,” she told Fern Mallis during a tell-all talk at 92Y here Tuesday night.
This story first appeared in the September 14, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
They certainly had a lot of ground to cover in tracing how an independent-minded Belgian marries a German prince, starts her own company, has two children, creates an iconic wrap dress and eventually a global lifestyle label that is now sold in more than 70 countries and 45 signature boutiques. Along the way, she and her first husband divorced, and she went on to live in Paris for a stretch, revel at Studio 54, marry Barry Diller, champion the High Line, become an American citizen, create the DVF Awards, win the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Lifetime Achievement award, become CFDA president and have no plans to dial back her work schedule.
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Having recently designed a suite at Claridge’s, von Furstenberg is now working on one for an Australian resort. Another one of the designer’s one-off children’s wear collections for Gap will be introduced next year. With half of her personal wealth committed to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she has plenty of incentive to keep coming up with new ideas. “Well, you just pledge and keep paying,” von Furstenberg said of the arrangement.
HIRING JOEL HOROWITZ WITH THE PROSPECT OF AN INITIAL PUBLIC OFFERING
I realized I had three areas in my business. The first moment the goal was to become financially independent. I was very lucky and I lived an American dream. I went forward with the ups and downs and whatnot. Fourteen years ago, it was about being the comeback kid. It was to show myself and the world that it hadn’t been an accident. Now I realize I have created a brand. I just finished doing this brand book and it was just amazing. It was like going through therapy, although I’ve never been through therapy. The result was really amazing because nothing was borrowed. I realized I really have an asset and need something that can go on after me, something that my children, my grandchildren and their children would have. I feel as though it is really time to package it and really focus on and target the DNA. When young designers ask me for advice, I tell them to “try to find your own vocabulary.” And of course, I forget that advice. Now is the time to build a platform to go to the next level.
YVAN MISPELAERE’S EXIT AS CREATIVE DIRECTOR
Yvan was a really talented designer and he joined DVF over three years ago and he was very, very helpful. And I think he had a good time and he has a whole other way of seeing fashion and doing fashion. He felt that his mission was accomplished, so we parted.
ON HIRING A DESIGNER
We put together a real dynamic team and maybe — I don’t know — there are a lot of talented designers and I love the idea of having a laboratory.
WEARING GOOGLE GLASSES TECHNOLOGY TO FILM A VIDEO AT HER SHOW
[Google chief executive] Sergey Brin is a very nice man. I saw him this summer and he was wearing this bar [across his eyes] with a little square on the end. I asked, “What is that?” He took me behind a tree, because he didn’t want other people to see, and he gave them to me. It has a small screen and when you tap on the temple, it is a computer, it can film, take pictures and do all sorts of things. He called me a few days later and said we should do something with Glass at the fashion show. These glasses can film so we put them on some models, the makeup artist, a few people in the audience, I had it, Yvan had it and Sergey had it. Thursday night the film “DVF Through Glass” came out on YouTube and DVF.com.
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KEEPING UP WITH TWITTER FOLLOWERS
In America, I have 425,000 and in China I have 609,000 and I am completely addicted. I wake up every morning and I check how many more Chinese followers I have. Just to tell you how quickly it goes, on Sunday I had 600,000 and tonight there were 609,000.
I have a lot to do in my business. I really focus on accessories now. I really want to create this grid. But I’m clear. When you’re not clear, that’s the worst thing. Sometimes it takes a while to get clear. I always think if I write about it, it will happen.
BEING RANKED 33RD ON FORBES 2012 MOST POWERFUL WOMEN LIST
I don’t know how I got there because I started from nothing and got to 33. I probably won’t be there next year.
On Sunday morning, I was so tired. I had had such a hard week with fittings and all these things. I looked in the mirror and I looked so defeated and I said to myself, “I can’t be defeated.” I am going to a fashion show and 1,000 people come so I hang myself upside down so that the blood will come to my head. I have a yoga wall. Then I thought, “OK, I am going to be victorious.” Then I told the girls to smile. You don’t smile at other fashion shows, but at my fashion show you smile. They wear their hair loose, beautiful colors and off they went.
I think you only regret the things you don’t do. Even things that were not good, you process them and they become part of something else, and something good comes out of it.
SECRET TO HER SUCCESS
My mother gave me my strength and character. She taught me the most important relationship you have is with yourself. My father gave me love and that made me confident with men.
BECOMING PRESIDENT OF THE CFDA
First of all, I had this whole feeling of very much being an outsider. I felt like I had a contribution to make, so when the time came to find a new president, I said that I would be on the committee. I had a few ideas; I went to these people and none of them wanted to do it. I said, “Why? It’s a great job,” and I said, “OK, I will do it for two years and then everybody will want to do it after that.” But it’s six years later…
MEETING BARRY DILLER WHEN HE WAS THE 33-YEAR-OLD CHAIRMAN OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES
I met Barry, you know I was European — Hollywood and movie stars — I thought it would be so nice to be his friend. He called me the next day and we had dinner. Then he asked me to come to L.A. and we fell passionately in love. We lived together for five years.
TYING THE KNOT WITH DILLER IN 2001
We always knew somehow that we would eventually get married at some point. It was his birthday and I didn’t know what to get him, so I said, “OK, if you want, I will marry you.” That was his gift. His wedding gift to me was 26 wedding bands. One for each of the years that we weren’t married. Whenever a friend of mine is sad, I give her one. I still have a lot, though.