Working in tandem with Diane von Furstenberg, Paula Sutter, president of DVF from 1999 to 2013, was instrumental in revitalizing the brand.
During her tenure, Sutter positioned DVF in the contemporary area, opened many stores around the globe and extended the brand into new categories and 70 countries, while boosting the company’s overall profile.
“When I got there, it was a very small company. It wasn’t a situation where there were levels of management. They had a quite a few licensees. Diane was very popular on Home Shopping Network. You had to unwind and start up again,” said Sutter.
Her first priority was to restructure the business and edit the licensees before they could start to develop and grow.
“It took a couple of years to work through the past and work through the businesses that were developed at a different time,” she said.
Sutter knew from Day One that she wanted to position DVF in the contemporary area.
“I went in and explained to Barry [Diller] and Diane what contemporary was. It clearly wasn’t as developed as it is today,” said Sutter. “It was my strategy that we would be the more colorful, feminine, print-oriented brand against Theory, which was much more urban and had a different aesthetic. I totally admired what Theory was doing and what it was bringing to that contemporary world, and I felt we could be in that world and live alongside brands like that very easily.
“It was really the beginning of what I think was affordable luxury,” she added. “Contemporary was really an alternative to designer, and that was what I was so compelled by, and what I clearly thought was the future.”
Von Furstenberg liked the idea, the family thought it was a great idea, and they moved forward in that direction, said Sutter.
“We built the business from scratch, hiring new design and sales teams. It was really the reinvention of a brand. It was the Windex-ing of a great brand,” she recalled.
Starting with the wrap dress, which was the core of the business and is still a very important part of the brand’s DNA, the company developed sportswear and segmented into a whole lifestyle brand, said Sutter. “Now they have shoes, and accessories are being developed,” she said.
The entire portfolio expanded as the years went on, and the store profile, retail and licensing all expanded. She also noted that she had “an amazing team” to develop the business.
“Your company is only as good as your talent,” she said. “We had really exciting and talented people come through our door.”
From the start, she said there was a lot of excitement surrounding DVF and the brand.
“I think it had a different aesthetic. It had international appeal very early on. It didn’t have an American look, it didn’t have a European look. It kind of had this global flair,” she said.
Asked what the highlights of her tenure were, Sutter replied, “There were so many — too many to mention.” But she did cite such developments as the opening of DVF’s first store in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District on 12th Street, and the “Journey of the Dress” exhibition that took place in Shanghai and Beijing. Another highlight was the grand opening and retrospective in São Paulo, Brazil.
“It was an amazing chapter and we accomplished more than we could ever imagine,” Sutter reflected. “I think there were times that Diane and I would look at each other and just be blown away by the excitement we were creating and the energy we were creating. There’s a time for a new generation, and a new perspective, and a new point of view. I feel like I left the company in a great place, with a really strong foundation. Now it’s time to take that foundation and build it to the next level.”