If you read WWD, you surely know that Diane von Furstenberg loves an empowered woman, and an empowering one. But have you met her goddaughter, the Statue of Liberty?
What was billed as a typical pre-fall appointment — come in, kiss-kiss; 15 minutes to look at clothes on models, mannequins and racks; kiss-kiss, bye-bye — turned into a conversation about a mega non-fashion project DVF took on: securing funding for Lady Liberty’s new museum. The museum is being relocated from inside her pedestal to a new, 26,000-square-foot construction, also on Liberty Island.
While Diane’s efforts are hardly secret — the news was revealed two years ago and she has hit up a lot of rich people since then, raising a whopping $100 million — Diane wanted to downplay her involvement publicly, at least until closer to the opening, slated for a May 15 fete for which invitations will likely be as coveted as they were for the statue’s dedication ceremony in 1886. (The upcoming festivities will be happily more inclusive than the original. In a woefully historical irony, the dedication of Lady Liberty was closed to women, with outraged suffragettes protesting from boats that hovered as close as they could get to what was then known as Bedloe’s Island.)
Less spectacularly, May is also the month of the first pre-season deliveries that Diane calls summer (she refuses to classify May/June as pre-fall). So she wanted to make a “discreet” reference to “freedom” in her collection. But last week, she noted some major fashion shout-outs to the Lady in the Harbor. “I saw Chanel with the torch,” Diane said, referring to Karl Lagerfeld’s Metiers d’Art illustration of Coco Chanel sporting spiked crown while lifting the lamp. And Donatella Versace’s set featured a replica of said-same torch. “So, I thought, ‘I raised $100 million. I’ll do Liberty, too.’”
In fact, DVF’s lovely collection boasted no obvious references. (Its full review awaiting the early-January arrival of look-book pictures.) But while talking through the clothes, Diane happily digressed, offering a truncated version of her path to involvement in the museum project. The board of the Statue Liberty and Ellis Island had long been after her to join. Her stock response: “If I go on another board, my husband will divorce me.” Undeterred, the board sent her a book about the statue. Until then, she said, “For me, Lady Liberty was just this big statue that welcomes you to New York. I had no idea the meaning of it…At the end of the 19th century, the [people of France] were so desperate about the state of France and the corruption and all of that they looked at America and the making of the Constitution as Utopia…They raised the money.”
Still, it took a deft instance of well-intentioned entrapment to secure her participation. Stephen Briganti, president and chief executive officer of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, read Diane’s book, “The Woman I Wanted to Be,” and challenged her on an essential passage. “He saw what my mother used to write to me,” she recalled. “My mother used to say, ‘God saved me’ — you know my mother was a [concentration camp] survivor — ‘God saved me so that I could give you life. But giving you life, you gave me my life back. You are my torch of freedom.’ So he said, ‘You cannot refuse to do this.’”
At that point, there was only one answer — delivered with a caveat. “I said, ‘OK, I will do it. But I don’t want a big title. I want to be the temporary godmother of the Statue of Liberty.’” She got her way, sort of. In her mind, she’s the godmother; on the foundation’s web site, she’s chair of the museum campaign. She jumped right in, and, along with the financing, secured an HBO documentary and a Rizzoli book.
To initiate the fundraising, Diane had the idea for a vast mural to be positioned at the museum’s entrance. Its designer? “I would say Ed Schlossberg and me.” Schlossberg is president and principal designer of ESI Design, which is designing the museum’s exhibitions. FXFOWLE is the architecture firm on the project, being built by Phelps Construction Group.
The mural features a stylized version of the Stars and Stripes on a green copper patina evoking that of the statue. The stripes are actual iron bars from Liberty’s original armature created by Gustave Eiffel (yes, that Eiffel), to support sculptor’s Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s massive design. They were removed and replaced during the 1986 renovation. DVF commissioned artist Anh Duong to sculpt a design for 50 stars, all but one for sale to corporations and individuals, with naming rights on the mural, for $2 million each. “I sold to Ralph [under the Ralph and Ricky Lauren Family Foundation] Chanel, Ferragamo, Walt Disney, Coca-Cola, lots of different people,” she said. Some bought stars to honor others — Jeff Bezos, for his father; George Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson, for Muhammad Ali. A star honoring Albert Einstein was bought by a donor who prefers to remain anonymous (at least Diane thinks that’s the plan).
Diane likened the private funding to that of the original, when the statue and pedestal were financed by the people of France and the U.S., respectively. If her approach rings as a little less grassroots, there is an of-the-(not rich)-people aspect that parallels the pedestal campaign in particular. When the committee to fund the pedestal fell far short of its goal, Joseph Pulitzer spearheaded a campaign to cover the shortfall, promising to list the name of every donor in his newspaper The New York World. He raised over $100,000 from more than 120,000 people. For the museum, one star on the mural will be designated as the “Founders Star,” honoring those who donate $18.86 or more through the Founders’ Star Direct Response Campaign, a multi-tiered effort involving a month-long crowdfunding drive on Indiegogo.com, now closed, as well as online and direct mail initiatives. Donors will be listed in the Founders Registry, on a digital display in the museum and on its web site.
The grateful board has already presented Diane with a thank-you, a replica of a mural section featuring three stars and their corresponding names. She indicated the piece, hanging on a wall, “and of course, my son makes fun of me: ‘Why do you have your name with Jeff Bezos and Albert Einstein? Isn’t it a little—–?’ I said, ‘They gave it to me.”
And well-deserved. Diane embraced the Statue of Liberty Museum project the only way she knows how — passionately and all-in. Yet she found her massive mandate surprisingly low-stress. “I’ve never raised money before,” she mused, “and this was actually easy. As for her takeaway, it’s greater than an impressive piece of wall art. “I used to know nothing about Lady Liberty,” Diane mused. “Now I’m such a connoisseur. I know everything.”