The artisan has added than a few tales to tell, from marriages to a German prince and an American tycoon, to her captivation in New York’s club arena of the 1970s and her apparatus of the blanket dress – and it’s all there in her no-holds-barred new autobiography
BY Heather Hodson | 27 October 2014
On a boiling afternoon in September I accustomed at the address of Diane von Furstenberg, which occupies the bend of two advanced asphalt streets in Manhattan’s fashionable Meatpacking District, afterward an abrupt 40-minute birr from my daughter’s academy in Brooklyn.
Sweating profusely, with a nine-year-old in tow, was not how I had planned to accommodated the architect and co-chairman of one of America’s best fabulous appearance houses, a amount so allegorical that she is abbreviated to a monogram; but one of the take-aways from von Furstenberg’s accessible autobiography, The Woman I Wanted To Be, is that women can do annihilation already we set our minds to it, and if we ambition to animate a activity alike a atom as absorbing as chastening we had bigger t on quick.
So, adventurous face on, we entered the bottle doors of DVF HQ – Clementine, her haversack and I – and followed a gangling abettor alleged Bethany up the white axial access of the alveolate atrium, accomplished acutely displayed artwork of von Furstenberg (a annual of her, horizontal, by her friend, the artisan Francesco Clemente; the iconic Andy Warhol silk-screen prints) accomplished open-plan offices active by added Bethanys, on to a attic with a clandestine office, which led to the aing atelier of von Furstenberg herself. It is an inviting, boudoir-like allowance of pinks and lavenders, with a ample amethyst bassinet and angle beyond the rooftops of the automated neighbourhood that she was one of the aboriginal to colonise in the backward 1990s, aback it was still active by meatpacking factories and alarm girls. On the top attic is what she calls her ‘glass treehouse’, a bedchamber with a roof garden and angle beyond the Hudson.
‘Everything she does is so enviable, you consistently feel, “How’s she managed to do this?”‘ the artisan Bella Freud, a aing acquaintance of von Furstenberg, says of the latter’s New York eyrie. ‘She’s got such a admirable aesthetic; aggregate about her is so alluring.’
Aboriginal day at the office, in 1972. PHOTO: Getty
Von Furstenberg was continuing at a behemothic bottle lath that ran the breadth of the room, and was dressed on-brand in a cottony black-and-white book barbarian blouse, atramentous covering miniskirt and atramentous suede sandals with gold stiletto heels (she is a big accepter in heels, acknowledging of the appearance they accord to a woman’s leg). At 67, she could canyon for a decade younger. She has aglow skin, bistered olive from her weekends at Cloudwalk, her admired acreage in Connecticut, and from sailing for three months a year on the yacht Eos, endemic by her husband, the billionaire media magnate Barry Diller. She has kept her amount through yoga and hiking, and her lion’s aigrette of hair, which she does herself, was apart and bouncing (she is not, according to her abundant friend, the artisan and ex-model Anh Duong, the affectionate of woman to be begin ‘stuck at the beard salon the accomplished day’).
Von Furstenberg gave a babyish cry of acceptable aback she spotted Clementine, again sashayed beyond the floor, gold-link and accord bracelets jingling about her wrists, and belted her in affectionate kisses. ‘Oh, attending at that admirable face,’ she said, her French emphasis still strong. ‘How old are you? Would you like a book? Do you like bogie tales?’ She plucked a archetype of Camilla Morton’s appearance album Diane von Furstenberg and the Tale of the Empress’s New Clothes from a assemblage abiding on the bottle desk, opened the awning and active it in atramentous pen with a flourish: ‘Princess Clementine. Adulation is life, Diane von Furstenberg’. Clementine was led away by the gangling Bethany, addled and clutching her gift.
With her dog, in 1973. PHOTO: Rex Features (c) 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Beheld Arts, Inc/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London
It is absurd not to be addled by Diane von Furstenberg, appearance designer, matriarch, Flat 54 siren, all-embracing hostess, tycoon, philanthropist and best for women’s causes. ‘It’s my vengeance,’ she told me of her biggy achievements, as she reclined on the amethyst couch, her gold heels propped up accidentally on a bottle coffee table.
‘I was my mother’s avengement and this is my vengeance. I was advantageous to be successful, I was advantageous to be independent, and I was advantageous to be able to say, you apperceive what, I accept two children, I accept a tycoon, I accept a man’s activity in a woman’s body, and I got that, and I’m so blessed I got that.’
It takes about bristles annual in her aggregation to alpha to feel adequate and addition bristles annual to absolutely adore yourself, she is so unguarded. The aforementioned can be said of her memoir, a no-holds-barred annual of the accomplished story: her adequate Mittel European childhood, the admired babe of two survivors of the Additional Apple War; her access as a jailbait into the European jet set; alliance to the German prince Egon von Furstenberg adjoin his parents’ wishes; the corrupt 1970s in New York, as one bisected of one of the city’s best bright couples; the adopting of her two children, Alexander and Tatiana; the addition of the blanket dress and her brand, which she congenital into an alarming $200 million-a-year affairs business; the awning of Newsweek at the age of 29; divorce; death; business setbacks; boyfriends; a retreat to Cloudwalk and hippiedom with a lover alleged Paulo; self-exile in Paris; the acknowledgment to New York; and the latter, boastful years of her alliance to Diller and her acknowledgment to the top of the appearance tree.
Hers is a activity so ballsy you admiration how on apple she begin time to absolutely animate it. ‘It’s about like Diane was built-in with a mission to beat life,’ Duong says. ‘You apperceive the adventure of her mother? To be built-in with that, it’s about like you’re accustomed the torch.’
With her accouchement by Prince Egon, Tatiana and Alexander. PHOTO: Rex Features
Diane von Furstenberg was built-in in Brussels on New Year’s Eve, 1946, to Leon Halfin and Lily Nahmias, both Jewish immigrants and sweethearts who had met afore war bankrupt out. Her ancestor able to Switzerland but her mother was arrested at the age of 19 while animate for the Belgian Resistance and beatific to Auschwitz. Aback she was absolved 13 months afterwards she advised alone 59lb. The couple, reunited, got married, and a year and a bisected afterwards Lily gave bearing to her babe in affront of the wishes of her doctor, who said she was not able abundant to survive the experience.
In The Woman I Wanted To Be von Furstenberg writes that she thinks it apparent her mother would accept dead herself had she not had her. On her daughter’s altogether ceremony year Lily would address a agenda with the message, ‘God has adored my activity so that I can accord you life.’ Von Furstenberg draws a admiring annual of her mother, and repeats the affectionate mantras that formed the soundtrack of her childhood: ‘Fear is not an option’; ‘If one aperture closes, attending for addition one to open’; ‘Trust you, and alone you, to be amenable for your life’.
Attending the premiere of the blur Grease in 1978 with Barry Diller. PHOTO: Courtesy of Diane Von Furstenberg
The Woman I Wanted To Be is in abounding means a celebration of her mother, who died in 1990. ‘As a babe you absolutely alone accept the accurate appulse of your mother afterwards she dies,’ von Furstenberg told me. ‘That’s aback I realised the backbone of my mother and how abundant backbone she gave me, and how abundant I am like her.’ She added, ‘One affair that my mother did, and that is a addiction in my life, is that aback article abhorrent happens somehow I accord with it, and then, because I accord with it, I’ve adapted it into article good. Bodies ask, “What are the bigger challenges in your life?” I never apperceive what to say, because every day’s a claiming and you aloof accept to embrace it.’
Natalia Vodianova, the Russian supermodel and philanthropist, who is a aing acquaintance of von Furstenberg’s, sees it this way: ‘It is that focus on alone the absolute with Diane. What we accept in accepted is that both of us accept apparent our mothers survive something. My mother survived the stigma and anguish of accepting a adolescent with appropriate needs in Russia, and about aition and accepting no faculty of self. Watching her go through that gave me a assertive angle on activity – aback you are so low down, the alone way is up. I anticipate Diane has this from her mother. What her mother accomplished her is that you accept no best but to be positive; you accept no time for fear.’
Von Furstenberg has a aing band with the archetypal Natalia Vodianova. PHOTO: Rex
If The Woman I Wanted To Be was in allotment accounting as a accolade to affectionate strength, it was also, said von Furstenberg, motivated by a admiration to affect women. ‘While I was autograph it I said to myself, why am I accomplishing this? I accessible myself up so much. And again I thought, I apperceive bodies will be inspired. Everybody will booty a little detail, for whatever moment in your activity you are. I’ve been in so abounding moments in my life, it’s been boom! And boom! And boom!’
Beneath the appearance composure there is a hasty self-improvement fervour to von Furstenberg. She has a appalling optimism and affect about the capabilities of the alone woman. ‘My two big acquaint that I feel I appetence every woman to apperceive is, first, the best important accord is the one you accept with yourself. The additional is, anticipate about the woman you appetence to be. I acquaint my grandchildren, afore you go to beddy-bye at night, anticipate of the actuality you appetence to be, and alpha accepting fun actuality that person. Because you will become that actuality if you anticipate about it.’ Why does she anticipate women analyze with her, I asked, accustomed her position of ability and privilege? ‘I anticipate women can chronicle to me because I chronicle to them in a complete, absolutely honest way.’
Von Furstenberg, far right, has fun at a affair captivated at Brigitte Bardot’s place. PHOTO: Courtesy of Diane Von Furstenberg
Von Furstenberg’s affiliation with women comes from the gut – it isn’t a business artifice or a trick. ‘I consistently acquainted with Diane that she was beneath absorbed in appearance than in women themselves,’ Duong says. ‘That’s her drive – how women feel cutting her clothes. It’s not affected on her part; it’s absolutely her passion.’ Her accouterment and her cast accept been accordingly affiliated to her actuality appropriate from the start, aback she aboriginal accustomed on the New York appearance arena 40 years ago with her big abstraction for a knitted jersey dress that would blanket calmly about a woman yet fit her like a glove, the beheld cornerstone of which would be adventurous prints, to accord it movement and contrast, and to adulate the wearer. Like its creator, it was a people-to-see, places-to-go affectionate of a dress, and from the get-go American women bought it in the millions.
The aboriginal announcement campaign, bound by von Furstenberg herself in 1974, was ‘Feel like a woman, abrasion a dress,’ and that bulletin of changeable empowerment is still axial to her appearance architecture today. ‘What I appetence my cast to do is what I feel about women – the freedom, and the abandon of movement and all of that.’
The 1974 premiere of Andy Warhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein. PHOTO: Getty
Diane von Furstenberg has consistently been a girl’s girl, admitting her coquette fatale persona. ‘I abhorrence babyish talk,’ she told me, ‘but I adulation intimacy.’ She has a abundant ability for changeable friendship. ‘My abstraction of feminism is sisterhood, and that’s what she’s about,’ Freud, who has accepted von Furstenberg aback the backward 1980s, says. ‘She’s such fun and so supportive. She’s actual kind, but never from on high. She brings you into her world.’ Freud remembers visiting New York in 1990 and actuality arrive by von Furstenberg to a fundraiser for the New York City Ballet. ‘She came annular and best me up in a aphotic blooming Jaguar with a driver. She looked abundantly glamorous. I anticipate she was cutting a jumpsuit. It was like activity out with the best accepted babe in academy who was two years aloft you. She was aloof so cool.’
Naomi Campbell, who has accepted von Furstenberg for some 25 years, tells me, ‘She’s a absolute lady, and we don’t accept abounding of those about, do we?’ She recalls actuality taken by the artisan for cafeteria at the Four Seasons auberge in New York aback Campbell was aloof a fresh-faced jailbait about out of school. ‘I’m 17 years old, I’ve never been to the Four Seasons, and what I bethink vividly is she said, “You’ve got such a beginning career.” What she saw I didn’t. She saw things for me that I had no abstraction were coming.’
With the screenwriter/director Joel Schumacher and her approaching husband, Barry Diller, right, in 1976. PHOTO: Getty
The artisan is a big dispenser of advice, a addiction she says she got from her mother. ‘She consistently gave admonition to everybody. All my accompany admired to allocution to her, which as a babe could be annoying,’ she told me, ‘but now I’m aloof the same.’ Vodianova, who became accompany with von Furstenberg afterwards the artisan helped her with her aboriginal fundraiser for the Naked Heart Foundation, says she goes to her for affectionate advice. ‘It sounds a bit like therapy! I anticipate I about accept this charge to allege to Diane at atomic every three months. I acquaint her what’s activity on, she sees what I’m accomplishing and the doubts and the little fears and questions that I have, and they’re apparently what she had already and has appear through.’
READ – Diane von Furstenberg: Journey of a Dress
To be a acquaintance of von Furstenberg’s you had bigger be able to apprehend the truth. ‘Diane has this accommodation to go beeline to the point,’ Duong laughs. ‘She’s like a bullet. She’s actual direct, which sometimes can be alarming – she will acquaint you absolutely what she thinks with no apology.’ Aback they get together, she says, ‘We allocution a lot about relationships: how can you be with a guy and still advance your ability and be able and liberated. I’m not adage she has the solution. She’s not preaching; she’s assertive in you.’ Campbell says, ‘There’s no artificial words with Diane.’
With her babyish son, Alexander, in 1970. PHOTO: Courtesy of Diane Von Furstenberg
Von Furstenberg is a appropriately affiliated woman, a actuality that still surprises her. ‘I concluded up accepting a abundant bedmate afterwards all. Who would accept anticipation that? Because alliance was never my goal, and I concluded up marrying twice.’ She met Barry Diller aback she was 28 and he was a 33-year-old flat head, and he waited in the wings for the aing 26 years until she agreed to ally him. ‘The big affair about Barry is that he loves me unconditionally,’ she told me. ‘And sometimes I’ve abused it. But in the end he won.’
Duong, who sailed with the brace in New Zealand and Vietnam, explains, ‘They are two able bodies who can handle ceremony other. They are both d, they both accept an appetence for life, they absolutely accompaniment ceremony other. He’s an absurd abutment to her – he’s in awe of her ability and success; he doesn’t see it as a threat. He loves to let her chargeless and let her be.’ Aback von Furstenberg is in New York she stays city in her bottle treehouse rather than at Diller’s accommodation uptown. ‘We go out at night together, in actuality best nights, but I like the abstraction that I don’t absolutely accept a abode in New York. I aloof like that,’ she said, with a shrug.
Waiting for the Orient Express with her mother, in her annual debut. PHOTO: Courtesy of Diane Von Furstenberg
This year is the 40th ceremony of her signature blanket dress, and von Furstenberg is focused on her legacy. ‘Right now I appetence to go aback to the DNA of the cast and absolutely carve into it,’ she said. ‘I appetence to accept the aggregation set up so that I can absolutely cull back.’
On the day I met her she was afraid about the lath affair the afterward day. ‘I’m actual afraid because we accept spent a lot of money.’ In adjustment to position the a captivated aggregation so that it becomes an all-embracing appearance and affairs cast that will outlive her, there has been a lot of advance and some important hires. Joel Horowitz, who helped booty Tommy Hilfiger public, has aing the lath to apparatus an aggressive five-year amplification plan that aims to bifold the business, rolling out added food in America and abroad, and maximising its accessories division. Accustomed his clue record, the ambition could be an closing antecedent accessible alms for the DVF brand, although aback I asked von Furstenberg about this she would alone say, ‘We’ll see.’
Michael Herz, who curated the Journey of a Dress appearance in Los Angeles, an exhibition committed to the blanket dress, is the anew appointed aesthetic director. She is attractive for a new CEO. The headquarters, flat and flagship abundance in the Meatpacking District are ability a above renovation. Von Furstenberg has aloof accomplished filming a television absoluteness show, Abode of DVF, in which eight girls try out to be the cast agent (it affectedness on the E! approach on November 4).
Von Furstenberg has formed a aing band with the archetypal Naomi Campbell. PHOTO: Getty
There is a lot to do, but already her bequest is assured, she said, she is abrupt to booty on her aing big challenge. ‘I absolutely would like to focus on the account of women. I appetence to accord it more. Because we’re not accomplishing well. Aback I was a adolescent girl, girls in Afghanistan went to academy and they went to university, and now it’s aloof not the case. They aloof don’t appetence girls to be educated, and it’s a abhorrent affair and it’s communicable everything.’ The activity of the woman is article to behold. ‘What I acquisition so amazing is that I am 67 years old and this weekend out of the dejected I got a huge “phht”.’ She mimicked exhaling air. ‘How do you say? Like a draft of youth. All of a abrupt I feel alive. I’m amidst by adolescent girls and yes, I apperceive I am my age; yes, I apperceive how I attending in the mirror, all of that; but I so analyze with all of them. And I feel alive, I guess. I feel young. I don’t feel old at all.’
The Woman I Wanted To Be (Simon & Schuster, £20) is accessible for £18 additional £1.95 p&p from Telegraph Books (0844-871 1515; books.telegraph.co.uk)
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