She is known by her first name only, Diane (pronounced Dee-yon), in the most flamboyantly European, Latinate manner imaginable—and there is also DVF the brand, DVF the CEO, DVF the business titan with the slashing cheekbones.
At 65, Diane von Furstenberg still embodies sultry beauty and feminine power. She is womanly, sensual, and utterly bien dans sa peau as she lounges on a sofa in her office on West 14th Street in Manhattan, portraits and murals and photographs of her in all her feline splendor staring down from the walls. Her hair floats in a corona of unbrushed curls around her head. She wears a giant gold bracelet, and her legs peep out from underneath a floaty green silk dress, gamine as an adolescent’s.
She was a princess, through her first marriage, in 1969 to Prince Egon von Furstenberg, and yet she was also a populist, introducing in 1974 her iconic, affordable wrap dress—the very symbol of women’s liberation and sexual freedom. Her wrap could be worn to the office, tied tight and high, loosened after work to show off one’s poitrine at a discotheque, and—should the need arise—be removed with one quick tug shortly thereafter. It was the dress that did everything, for the woman who aspired to do everything. “I loved the seventies,” von Furstenberg says, her voice crisp and quiet. “It was between the pill and AIDS, and everyone enjoyed an amazing amount of freedom and exploration in so many ways—artistically, emotionally.”
Born on New Year’s Eve, 1946, in Brussels, Diane Halfin was the only daughter of a Romanian businessman and a Greek mother who was a Holocaust survivor, having been freed from Auschwitz just 18 months before Diane’s birth. “She made me so strong,” von Furstenberg says. “She never allowed me to be afraid. If I was afraid of the dark, she would put me in a dark closet to teach me to be unafraid.” After Diane and Egon von Furstenberg got married, they set up camp in a Park Avenue apartment and flitted with breezy glamour from galas to exotic islands—a young, wealthy couple who averaged four parties a night, mingling with Salvador Dalí, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Cecil Beaton.
Then, in 1973, New York magazine ran a cover story about the von Furstenbergs titled “The Couple That Has Everything. Is Everything Enough?” detailing their nocturnal habits, the seeming superficiality of their jetset lives, and her husband’s admitted infidelities. “As awful as that story was, it made me realize that I did not want to be a socialite,” she says. “That was so far from the woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be independent.” The three-and-half-year marriage was soon over. Diane, with two children under the age of 4, never asked the prince for alimony. Instead, she introduced her wrap dress. “And I exploded,” she says. “The cover of Newsweek, the cover of The Wall Street Journal, Interview.” She was selling 25,000 dresses a week. One day on an airplane, she was reading The Wall Street Journal—the one with her pointillist portrait on the front page. “And a man leaned over to me and said, ‘What’s a pretty little girl like you doing reading The Wall Street Journal?’ ” She ignored him.