Working Girl

You can’t help but fall in love with Diane von Furstenberg in the first minute. At 65,and looking 65,she smiles sunny,quips funny and packs more spunk than any of the younger fashion bunnies around her.

Written by Namrata Zakaria | Published: April 4, 2012 12:22:23 am

You can’t help but fall in love with Diane von Furstenberg in the first minute. At 65,and looking 65,she smiles sunny,quips funny and packs more spunk than any of the younger fashion bunnies around her.

Diane,or DVF as she’s known,was in India for a luxury conference hosted by a financial newspaper. Among the smattering of achievers — boldfaced names from retail,hospitality,fashion and fast cars — hers was understandably the biggest draw. She’s been in the business for over 40 years,when many others on stage were probably in diapers,and is still calling the shots,especially where American fashion is concerned.

Belgium-born and Jewish-raised Diane’s journey began in her very early twenties. She got pregnant and quickly married Egon von Furstenberg,a German prince and heir to the Fiat fortune. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I knew what I wanted to be; I wanted to be an independent woman,” she says of her state of mind then. Two children and three years into the marriage,Diane and Egon divorced.

In 1972,on the advice of Vogue USA’s editor and style setter,Diane Vreeland,she landed in a New York trade fair with a few dresses she had made in Italy. She asked a friend to take her picture wearing one of her dresses as she created an advertisement for her small collection. She sat on a white cube,but it looked “too white”,so she took her pen and scribbled on it: ‘Feel like a woman,wear a dress’. The catchy ad turned her into roaring success among the mega departmental stores.

Diane is best known for her modern and influential wrap dress — her invention of 1974. It’s a jersey print wrap-around dress that was touted as manna to the modern working-woman’s work as well as after-hours wardrobe. She sold millions of these,and they were everywhere. In 1976,and only 29,she was on the cover of Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. Newsweek called her the “most marketable woman since Coco Chanel”.

Of course,the ladies had soon had their fill of these floaty frocks. Diane moved to Paris but launched make-up and perfume. In 1997,she moved back to New York,a city she didn’t recognise anymore. “Fashion is a crazy industry. I mean,you finish and then you go back. It’s nuts,” she says. She re-launched her wrap dress with an advert that read: ‘You remind me of my mother’. And the dress was back in business. Vintage was in the new again.

The Obamas’ first Christmas at the White House was celebrated with a family-photo greeting card where Mrs Obama wore the same dress Diane wore sitting on that cube.

Much of DVF’s success — both the woman’s and the label’s — comes from the age-old American dream of success. Diane’s life and dresses have become the American working-woman’s lexicon. Her success is enviable; she owns over 75 stores internationally,many of them in the US.

While we may bow down to the heritage labels of England,France and Italy,in the ’90s,each one of them ached for a slice of the American pie — the money-spinning departmental stores that couldn’t have enough of DVF. This was also when American women rejected European labels as dowdy and ageing,preferring their own minimalists such as Calvin Klein,Ralph Lauren,Geoffrey Beene and,of course,Halston. Interestingly,Diane became an American citizen only in 2002. In 2009,she became the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America,where she mentors over 500 younger designers.

Her trip to India was a work-ation,but she’s extended it to travel. She spent the last weekend in Agra and then Jaipur. She tweets: “Moghal kings had four wives: one for company,one for cooking,one for children and one to beat and show the other three”,still displaying her snappy mantras that made her a marketing sensation. namratanow@gmail.com

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