DVF’S GLOBAL AMBITION
Byline: Janet Ozzard
NEW YORK — In the Seventies, Diane Von Furstenberg was a household name.
In the Nineties, she wants to be a global brand. And she’s doing it partly by reintroducing the famous wrap dress that made her name two decades ago.
Von Furstenberg will launch her new line of women’s apparel, under the label Diane, with Saks Fifth Avenue this fall.
And after 16 years in tony Fifth Avenue offices overlooking Bergdorf Goodman, she’s moving Diane Von Furstenberg Studio to a renovated carriage house in the meat-packing district.
While the new neighborhood isn’t exactly where one might picture the elegant Von Furstenberg — or her daughter-in-law, Alexandra Miller Von Furstenberg, who now works with the company — the designer/writer said she’s excited to get going in the new space.
Her personal agenda is filling up fast, with the Saks launch set for August, another book contract signed and perhaps more home products to accompany the apparel.
One thing is for sure — it’s all going to be under her own name.
“The name,” she said in a recent interview. “One thing I’m sure of is that the name is more and more important everywhere. Names that had died are being resurrected everywhere. And it doesn’t matter what name, or how old. I’m sure Schiaparelli could come back and do something.”
In fact, Von Furstenberg’s peers in Seventies fashion are rapidly re-entering the field. Halston International, a company formed by TTI, is bringing back a slew of products under the designer’s name. While Gloria Vanderbilt’s name has been kept alive in the mass fashion area, it will be back in moderate-price sportswear come fall.
“So I felt I might as well go for it and do it myself, and turn the name into a global brand,” she said with a shrug.
With a staff that now includes her daughter-in-law, as well as Kathy Landau, vice president of design, and Ruth Patkin, vice president of marketing and communications, Von Furstenberg has put together a sizable sample line for the launch.
She’s also got a handy reference for her target customer: herself.
“A woman is a woman, as opposed to a career, or an age,” she said. “All women want to be looked at, all women have a practical sense, they all want to be complimented, and all women are insecure. So basically all women share the same thing. The basis of the Diane line is to make clothes for people like me.”
Of course, about half of the line is dresses, which Von Furstenberg said is not intentional.
She’s still selling Silk Assets, which is designed for and solely distributed for TV home shopping. Her contract with QVC ended early this year, but she’ll be back on the Home Shopping Network next week. She also continues to do Diane Von Furstenberg — The Color Authority with Avon.
But the new Diane line, which will hit the floor at low bridge prices, is her signature line — in more ways than one, considering that her signature is one of her more famous print patterns. Dresses are around $180 and suits are $450.
The Diane project has three prongs: the fashion, the marketing and the business.
“People are asking me to do dresses,” she said. “I asked them, ‘Are you sure?’ And they say, ‘Women wear dresses.’ My daughter-in-law is fashion- conscious, she has a good education, she thinks these dresses are hot. I saw Tom Ford in Paris, he said, ‘I love these dresses — you should bring them back.’ This, to me, is still unbelievable.”
For marketing, Von Furstenberg said: “The best thing you can do for yourself and your reputation is surprise them with quality. Whatever they pay, give them a little bit more. The more we can shorten the distance between the sewing machine and the cash register, the better value we can give the customer.
“Saks is not the biggest store, but it’s a great store, it’s a quality store, and I’m very happy. I’m going to work damn hard to make it right. It’s a great platform that allows me to expand internationally.”
The launch is scheduled for Aug. 1. Von Furstenberg plans to form other alliances with stores in other countries, but part of her plan is to keep the Diane line exclusive to one retailer in each country.
As for advertising, Von Furstenberg is looking forward to selling the line herself, through personal appearances.
“It’s always been very intrinsic to my work and to my success and to my understanding and learning. It’s through my personal appearances that I learned everything I needed to. In the fitting room, I meet with the customer and find out what she wants. That will be a very important part of what I do, so I’m concentrating on 10 stores at first.”
Von Furstenberg said she aims to stick with the fashion classics, which make getting dressed easier and don’t become obsolete.
“Some things are timeless, and that’s what interests me most,” she said. “What we put on is a tool that makes you look better and feel better. Suits, like dresses, are one-step dressing, but they have had a tendency to look matronly. I want it to look modern.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” added Alexandra Von Furstenberg. “To make this relevant to my generation: something modern, Nineties and comfortable, that follows the trends slightly but doesn’t seem outdated; that’s feminine, and sexy.”
There are two suit silhouettes that come in virtually any color: an A-shaped jacket and a simple four-button blazer. Von Furstenberg has also included a short double-breasted jacket inspired by a traditional Austrian style that can be buttoned closed for more formal wear or folded back and buttoned on itself for a cardigan effect. All the jackets have a skirt or pants.
The dress line includes the famous wrap, as well as a shirtdress, a sweater dress, a short shift and other styles.
Fabrics include 30-momme silk crepe, double-faced wool, cotton knit and silk jersey. There is a navy pinstripe, a Prince of Wales plaid and two Donegal tweeds for later deliveries. There is even a group of evening suits in jacquard, velvet and satin.
“When I like a fabric it becomes something I use a lot,” the designer said. “I spend a lot of time picking it because then I run it for a long time.”
The palette runs from warm to cool tones, including brown, burgundy, green and purples, with prints including ikat, mosaic, tile and stripes.
In addition to designing the line, Von Furstenberg is working on her new space. The company will move in the next two to three months, she said.
“It’s part of a rebirth, a challenge,” said Von Furstenberg. “Our lease is coming up, and I have so much stuff here. At first, I was looking for a floor in some great huge building. But I found a beautiful old carriage house. It’s 15,000 square feet, very wide, 65 feet by 75 feet, and it was built in 1858. It’s on Twelfth Street between Washington Street and the Hudson River. The design studio will be on the second floor and the main floor is a great open space with a whole system of moving walls that I’m going to design to close or open the space to make a showroom, a shop, a screening room, a fashion show.
“We’ll experiment with a shop concept, make presentations, have shows. It will be like a theater. And there will be home [products] soon, because I want to be involved with that in a big way.”
And for those who want documentation of Von Furstenberg’s passage from household name to growing global brand, there will soon be a book about the aristocrat-designer-pitchmeister.
“I’ve just signed with Simon & Schuster to write a business biography,” she said. “It’s very much the story of a business, the life of a dress. It’s the saga of a signature.”