“Usually the fairy tale ends with the girl marrying the prince,” von Furstenberg says. “But mine started as soon as the marriage was over.” She began to frequent Studio 54, which she describes in her 1998 memoir, Diane: A Signature Life, as “the best pickup place in the world.” She was there when her friend Bianca Jagger rode in on a white horse to celebrate her birthday. Von Furstenberg was an unmarried mother in her 30s hanging out with Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Halston, Patti Hansen, and David Geffen, referring to herself as Diane the Huntress. “Around midnight, I would put on my cowboy boots, drive myself to midtown in my Mercedes, and join in. I loved the feeling of walking in alone, like a cowboy in a saloon, feeling I was breaking a taboo,” she wrote. “Sometimes I didn’t go home alone.”
Her boundless exuberance—the idea that her empire could be limitless—led to some business setbacks. In 1983, her name perilously overexposed and her product lines over-licensed, she sold the business. Her career may not have been flourishing, but her romantic life was. After a volcanic love affair with a Brazilian whom she met in Bali, von Furstenberg went on to date Richard Gere, Ryan O’Neal, Alain Elkann, and Barry Diller, who famously gave her a Band-Aid box filled with 29 diamonds for her 29th birthday, and whom she would marry in 2001.
In 1994, she was diagnosed with tongue cancer. “I believe that had something to do with the fact that I wasn’t able to express myself for so long,” she says, referring to her retreat from fashion for several years. By the end of the nineties, she had resurrected her wrap dress. “The first time I did it to be independent. The second time around was to show myself and the world that my success hadn’t been an accident.”
If von Furstenberg’s first act was the American Dream, then her second was the Comeback Kid. “And now I am in the third phase, which is I Mean Business. This is a new starting line for me,” she says as her driver pilots us in a green Bentley to a dentist appointment. Von Furstenberg’s got a loose crown—she’s not perfect. “Insecurity is a waste of time,” adds the designer, who is serving her fourth term as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, where she’s more den mother to much of the young talent than formal mentor.
We’re almost at the dentist. Quick, Diane, before you get out of the car, give me some advice: How can I do what you did? Be a mother, and work full time, and manage to squeeze in some relationships or even a good marriage?