Fabulous Von Furstenberg: Telling Her Mother’s Story In Style

By Nicole Brodeur
The Seattle Times.


Luxury smells like exotic flowers. It tastes like peppermint tea. It sounds like bracelets jangling. It feels like fingers running through a mane of curly hair. And it looks like Diane von Furstenberg.

The designer, 67, was lounging on the couch in her spacious suite at the Four Seasons one recent afternoon. She had spread out there for a three-day visit to Seattle that was jam-packed: media interviews, a visit to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a book reading at The Elliott Bay Book Company, an appearance at her Bellevue Square store and a keynote speech at a luncheon for Vital Voices, a nonprofit focused on female empowerment that DVF (as she’s commonly known) has championed for years.

“I am really, really tired because I do too much, and it just so happened that everything came out at the same time,” she said. Her accent is French (she was born in Belgium), mixed with a lilt of passport stamps, room-service orders and lots of decisions made.

One was to star in her own reality show, “House of DVF,” in which the designer whittles down a group of fashionable young women to the one who will be her “brand ambassador.” The show premiered last month on the E! Network.

Another is to release her new book, “The Woman I Wanted to Be,” which started out as an ode to her mother, Lily, a Holocaust survivor who raised her daughter to be strong and independent.

“Writing the book helped me understand my mother’s history and how she survived,” von Furstenberg said. “She survived, and I think I realized what an impact it had on the person I am.

“I am her vengeance.”

The book is also a chronicle of how von Furstenberg’s creation of a single dress, the wrap dress, which could put a waist on a penguin, catapulted her to fashion stardom.

Before she was 30, von Furstenberg was on the cover of Time Magazine and married to a prince. She went on to have two children, but then left her husband, in part because of a New York Magazine cover story that made her feel empty for seemingly having everything.

She went on to have a series of romances, was a staple at Studio 54 and in the New York gossip columns, battled cancer and eventually married her on-again-off-again partner, billionaire media mogul Barry Diller.

In 1997, she relaunched her brand, wrote a book on business, created a jewelry and home collection, and founded an eponymous award for women.

In January, she celebrated the 40th anniversary of the wrap dress with an exhibition in Los Angeles that had some 200 custom mannequins in an army formation, dressed in wraps through the decades.

“I took it (the dress) for granted,” she said. “And the exhibition was the first time that I honored it.”

The fateful dress happened by accident, von Furstenberg said. First she made a shirtdress, then a T-shirt dress, and then a wrap-top with a skirt that wound up being a dress.

“I didn’t really understand the value of it,” she said. “The minute it came out, it was madness. And I became that woman through that little dress. I became confident as I was giving confidence to others.”

She is stunned at the garment’s staying power, and the diversity of those who have worn it.

Just that morning, Kate Middleton was photographed wearing one. So was Amy Winehouse, von Furstenberg said, just two weeks before she died. And when former Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt was released by her kidnappers after six years in 2008, the first dress she bought was a DVF wrap.

“I am happy that it is all there,” von Furstenberg said of her stories. “I am very happy with the book, the memoir, because it is in my words and I said what I wanted to say. I feel it was very good. It was like therapy, and I feel good about that. I feel good about a lot of things.

“It’s just, I am physically tired,” she said, raking her hands through her hair, then shaking it at the sides, as if to fluff herself. “And my husband said I have to stop saying that and do less. And I don’t listen to either.”

Even so, Diller has engaged his wife in ambitious plans to make their mark on Manhattan, first as the single largest private donors to the High Line elevated park; then with their architecturally bold his-and-hers corporate headquarters; and most recently as the sponsors of a $170 million, futuristic park-and-perfomance venue project proposed for the Hudson River shoreline.

As for the reality show, von Furstenberg agreed to it only after she and her team came up with the concept. They were looking for a brand ambassador to bring DVF to the next generation. Why not chronicle the search?

“We went to E! and they loved the idea,” she said. It was a relief. “A lot of people came to me with really tacky ideas.”
In person, von Furstenberg is self-possessed and unflinching.

“The only thing you can practice is the truth,” she said. “That’s what I realized. My religion is the truth. That is what I practice.”

She hates small talk, strange for someone who seems to spend a lot of time at parties. She also likes solitary activities like hiking, swimming, reading books and doing jigsaw puzzles on her iPad.

“I pay attention to people,” she said. “I don’t like small talk, but I like intimacy with people in general. I can go in an elevator and engage with somebody.

“I’m curious, I love life,” Von Furstenberg said. “Until I am buried, I want to live. That’s it.”

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