Diane von Furstenberg is taking her annual DVF Awards to Paris on Nov. 17 in partnership with the Women’s Forum, the international platform for action highlighting women’s voices and vision and creating a more inclusive future.
Now in its 12th year, the DVF Awards will honor five women who have demonstrated leadership, strength and courage in their commitment to making a difference in their communities. The awards will be held at the Opéra Garnier.
The Lifetime Leadership Award will be presented to Melinda Gates, philanthropist, businesswoman and global advocate for women and girls, for her commitment and work to improve gender equity in the U.S. and around the world. Through her work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for more than 20 years, Gates has seen how empowering women and girls can transform the health and prosperity of families, communities and societies. She is also the founder of Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company working to drive social progress for women and families in the U.S.
The Inspiration Award will go to Clarissa Ward, CNN’s chief international correspondent who has spent nearly two decades as a conflict reporter on the front lines in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and Ukraine for ABC, CBS and Fox News.
Also taking home a DVF Award is Vanessa Nakate, a 24-year-old climate activist and founder of the Rise Up Climate Movement, which aims to amplify the voices of activists from Africa. She has also spearheaded the campaign to save Congo’s rainforest, a campaign that later spread to other countries from Africa to Europe.
Two other women who will be honored with DVF Awards are Rouba Mhaissen, an activist and advocate who provides holistic and integrated support to displaced Syrian individuals and families through alternative education, livelihood, protection and advocacy efforts, and Wai Wai Nu, who works for democracy and human rights, particularly on behalf of marginalized women and members of her ethnic group, the Rohingya. She is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Peace Network in Burma.
Since launching the DVF Awards in 2010, von Furstenberg has awarded 53 grants to 56 women who are tackling issues such as human trafficking, homelessness, gun control, education, immigration rights, gender inequality, violence against women and climate change. Each honoree receives $50,000 for their nonprofit organization to further their impact. The awards were created by Furstenberg and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation.
The last DVF Awards were held in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. in February 2020 with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg receiving the Lifetime Leadership Award. Von Furstenberg said she didn’t want her to travel and it was the last public appearance for Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18, 2020.
Von Furstenberg said she knew the Women’s Forum, which is in its 16th year, because she participated in their annual global meeting in 2008 when she presented the play, “Seven,” the parallel stories of seven women who refused to be categorized as victims and transformed their seemingly impossible life and political challenges into opportunities to change paradigms. She said they recently called her and asked if she would consider bringing the DVF Awards to the opening night of their conference. “And I thought, ‘Yes, why not?’ It’s very exciting because it’s become international. I don’t think they thought I would say ‘yes,'” she said.
She expects a big crowd to turn out that night. “It’s going to be very exciting, and I’m working on a few surprises. It should be really good. But more important than exciting, it’s a real call for action for women and impact. With COVID-19 and Afghanistan, we went back 35 years. We have to focus on women,” she said.
Two of the honorees — Mhaissen and Nu — were nominated through Vital Voices, a nongovernmental organization that supports female leaders and entrepreneurs around the world that von Furstenberg works with.
Asked how she has helped the honorees over the years, she said: “How about they changed my life? A lot of them have stayed my friends. I always hear from them. We keep on helping them. They are such remarkable women, it’s a family.” She said she’s also so proud of Vital Voices, too, which has come a long way. “They have the most amazing global network of badass women in 186 countries.”
Von Furstenberg said the DVF Awards were her son Alex’s idea. He said to her about 15 years ago, “You know you care so much about women. Through our family foundation, we should give these women money and you should give a prize, and one day it could be like the Nobel Prize,” said von Furstenberg. When Tina Brown originally asked her to host Women in the World with her, von Furstenberg thought it would be a good opportunity. The first time, it was held at the U.N. and they gave an award to Ingrid Betancourt, which was presented by Meryl Streep. The Lifetime Leadership Award over the years has gone to such women as Jane Goodall, Anita Hill, Gloria Steinem and Oprah Winfrey.
Von Furstenberg says of the pool of honorees through the years, “I’ve always been diverse and I’ve always been young. This is not a marketing tool. It’s completely authentic from the beginning. One of the things the family foundation decided was it’s important today to have as much of an impact as possible — to fight inequality. Women are very important to me, and have always been. I’ve been a feminist for 50 years. Nothing has changed. I have met the most incredible women through Vital Voices and through the awards, and they stay connected. We continue to help them over the years. It’s an ongoing thing.”
Among the presenters are Natalia Vodianova, who previously received the Inspiration Award; Betancourt; Leila Slimani, as well as some surprises. The Master of Ceremonies hasn’t been finalized yet.
She said the evening is always incredibly emotional.
“There will be 300 people. It’s very intimate because people speak with the heart, and people who are not well-known are so impressed to be with the ones who are well-known. And the ones who are well-known are so moved by the strength of these women. The mission of the awards is [to honor] women who have the strength to fight, the courage to survive and the leadership to inspire,” said von Furstenberg.
“When you hear these women I feel so small, and ‘what have I done compared to them?'” said von Furstenberg.
Turning to her own business, von Furstenberg said she’s slimmed it down, but it’s now profitable. “It was important to keep it tight to grow again, and now [president Gabby Hirata] really turned it around and made it profitable,” she said. She closed many of her own stores and is focused on the Meatpacking District flagship, 60 stores in China, a store in Belgium and wholesale partners such as Net-a-porter and Neiman Marcus. She said it was important to return to the core. “In a weird way, now that everyone wants vintage, the timing works for the brand that we are.”
As for the state of the industry, von Furstenberg observed: “It’s a different world today. Fashion is the zeitgeist. If nobody were to make anything new ever again, you’d still have fashion. People all of a sudden would wear combat boots. Fashion is a reflection of the times. The business of fashion is obviously changing because everything is changing and everything is immediate and everything is direct,” she said.
She said to make the need for change can be difficult to admit and execute. “Then something like COVID-19 happens, and all of a sudden, you’re forced to. It’s very funny, at the same time it happened, I was writing this book called ‘Own It,’ and I guess that’s what everybody had to do.”
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