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Lady Power: DVF Seeks to Inspire Executive Women

The designer Diane von Furstenberg recounts her career challenges, successes.

“My company is made up of 97 percent women, and I like to joke that the men in our company either drive or clean.”

So quipped Diane von Furstenberg during a speech Tuesday night to about 100 members of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Executive Women in Fashion group at the Affina hotel in Manhattan.

Von Furstenberg was joined on the podium by Stefani Greenfield, co-founder of the Scoop chain, who now balances her new consulting firm, My Next Act, with her Home Shopping Network show, “Curations,” where she collaborates with designers to bring exclusive products to the network.

“Scoop on HSN was one of the best lines we’ve ever had, and now Curations is even better — it’s one of the fastest growing lines for us,” Mindy Grossman, HSN’s chief executive officer, said during the cocktail hour. “We are here tonight for this, and then leaving first thing tomorrow to get everything together for the next taping.”

Greenfield introduced von Furstenberg as a “truly inspiring friend,” who has a “story that will change you.”

Von Furstenberg sought to inspire by telling her own story, beginning with her marriage to the late Egon von Furstenberg. “I was pregnant, which was why I married so quick,” she said, recalling her move to New York from Europe on a boat trip was “very boring and filled with people who were very old.”

The designer spoke of the birth of her children, her divorce from von Furstenberg and her rise and fall — and rise again in the late Nineties — as a dress designer. She also talked about her business’ problems — signing too many licenses, being overloaded with inventory and too much exposure. And von Furstenberg talked of her proudest moments — landing on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and on Newsweek’s cover, launching a successful color cosmetics line in the Eighties and selling $1.4 million worth of clothing on QVC in two hours, sparking her Nineties comeback.

In the end, the designer, who now has 31 stores and sells her contemporary collection in 57 countries, said she has been able to make her business successful because she never veered from her original vision to create clothes for the women who inspire her.

“What we sell is emotion — no one needs another dress,” von Furstenberg said. “We must create things that women desire.”