“I celebrate all the time,” says Diane von Furstenberg, who devotes her every waking moment to packing two lifetimes’ worth of joy and decadence into the space of one. “My mother was an Auschwitz survivor, and she used to say she suffered for me so I didn’t have to.” The Belgium-born fashion designer, philanthropist, and author (her latest book, Live It: The Secret to Joy, is due out next year) is now 75 and at what she calls the “legacy moment of my life.” Her appetite for all-out fabulousness, however, shows no signs of waning. Speaking from Portofino—she’s aboard Eos, the three-masted schooner she and her husband, Barry Diller, named after the Greek goddess of the dawn—von Furstenberg reflects on her multi-act adventure: She’s been a princess (she was 22 when she married Egon von Fürstenberg, the son of an Austrian prince and a Fiat heiress), a globe-trotting party girl (she ran with Andy Warhol’s entourage and regularly hosted Yves Saint Laurent and Bernardo Bertolucci at her expansive Park Avenue apartment), and an unflappable businesswoman, spinning a $30,000 loan from her father into a multimillion-dollar company. Her recollections are full of grit and guts, brio and bemusement—but never regret.
“I was very different from all the other little girls on the streets of Belgium,” von Furstenberg says of her childhood. “I didn’t have straight blonde hair with bangs. I had short black, curly hair, which I hated.” She was the apple of her parents’ eyes, as the circa 1951 photograph (above) of Diane with her mother, Lily, and father, Leon, an entrepreneur, bears out.
Von Furstenberg at age 9.
Von Furstenberg is one of the few people on Earth who can say she attended a party at Brigitte Bardot’s house. “It was one of the only parties she’d ever given,” von Furstenberg says of the actor, singer, and model (top row, second from left). “She had a very flamboyant Italian boyfriend at the time. It was a pirate-themed event.” Forty years later, the French bombshell was an inspiration for DVF’s spring 2015 collection, which was rife with gingham and bra tops.
Von Furstenberg has called Egon, her first husband and the father of her children, Alexandre and Tatiana, “my Pygmalion.” In the early 1970s, the two lived in uptown Manhattan and hosted and attended parties with gusto. “Those were very glamorous years,” she says. The pair met while attending the University of Geneva and got married a year before her first fashion show, in 1969.
Von Furstenberg was a fixture of the New York social scene by the early 1980s. “I don’t know where my head was in that picture,” she says. “It was during the Bali years. I let my hair out, and I was dreaming up a new line.” Silk Assets, her early-’90s follow-up to her eponymous label, was a huge hit on the QVC shopping network, selling $1.2 million worth of merchandise in two hours.
“André was a very good friend of mine,” von Furstenberg says of the fashion writer and Vogue editor André Leon Talley, who died earlier this year. Across five decades, the pair enjoyed regular phone calls and hitting the French nightclub Maxim’s. In 2009, they attended Barack Obama’s inauguration together. Von Furstenberg made countless caftans for Talley and helped organize his funeral.
In 1980, von Furstenberg’s then boyfriend, Barry Diller, produced the film Urban Cowboy. “And there I was at the premiere, chatting with John Travolta,” she recalls. “It was a very big deal!” Write-ups of the party included reports of von Furstenberg and Andy Warhol photographing each other while Warhol rode a mechanical bull.
After splitting from Egon, and following the dissolution of her brand (which she would later relaunch), von Furstenberg spent a good deal of time in Bali. Here, she is on a bed surrounded by frangipani. “I fell in love there with a Brazilian man named Paulo, who lived in a bamboo house,” she says. “And I dedicated to him a perfume called Volcan d’Amour, which means ‘Volcano of Love.’ ”
Shortly after appearing on the cover of Newsweek in 1976, for its “Rags & Riches” issue, von Furstenberg was in her office, living the American dream. “I’d sold a million dresses by then,” she says.
Pictured with (from left) Mikhail Baryshnikov, Valentino Garavani, Marisa Berenson, and Lucia, “a Brazilian girl.” Judging from von Furstenberg’s Valentino ensemble, the group was celebrating something to do with the Italian designer. “He was a friend of mine, and I loved wearing his ballgowns,” says von Furstenberg, who could count on Valentino to regularly show up at her fashion shows.
Von Furstenberg is having her customary after-dinner tea with a charmed crowd, including Nona Summers, the legendary hostess, swimwear designer, and British Vogue contributor. “Nona has been my friend since university,” says von Furstenberg. “She is the godmother of my daughter, Tatiana, and I am the godmother of her daughter, Tara.”
When Giorgio Armani (above, left) came to town, von Furstenberg was usually enlisted to keep him company, “since I speak Italian,” she says. Before the wrap dress, she’d started out as an apprentice to the textile manufacturer Angelo Ferretti in Como, Italy.
“That was my son’s first day of being 2, and my career was just taking off,” von Furstenberg says of this circa 1972 snapshot (above) with Alexandre and Tatiana. Her wrap dress struck a chord in the ’70s. It was body-positive and inclusive decades before either of those terms was even a thing, and would become a favorite among career-minded women who wanted something glamorous and unfussy to wear to work—or to the disco.
Strolling in Central Park with Egon and a newborn Alexandre.
“I wanted to be a Greek goddess,” von Furstenberg recalls of a look worn to the 1982 Met Gala. With the harvest deity Ceres as her inspiration, she wore a dress of her own design and had her hair accented with a crown of wheat. An early DVF dress was featured in the recent Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.”
Celebrating the end of the fall 2016 fashion presentation, which went off without a hitch, thanks in large part to the chops of Instagram-era models including Jourdan Dunn, Irina Shayk, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Karlie Kloss. The theatrical show, held at von Furstenberg’s Meatpacking District headquarters in New York, “wasn’t on a runway,” she says. “It was more of an intimate ramble through the rooms, and the girls were marvelous.”
Von Furstenberg married media mogul Barry Diller in 2001, but their friendship long predated their nuptials. Here, the two attend a party in 1990 for Bob Colacello’s book Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up. “Bob is a very dear friend of 40 years, and I was super close to him while he was writing this fantastic book,” says von Furstenberg.
Over the course of her career, von Furstenberg has become a serious philanthropist. In 2010, she launched the DVF Awards to pay tribute to women who have improved the lives of other women around the world. Each winner is given $50,000 to support and continue her work. In 2017, she honored the English primatologist Jane Goodall (above). Von Furstenberg had previously committed to donating half of her fortune through the Giving Pledge, Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates, and Warren Buffett’s plan to encourage America’s wealthiest to distribute money to help solve societal problems.
“My three grandchildren were so small at the time, so this must be 16 years ago,” says von Furstenberg, pictured in her bed with Alexandre’s and Tatiana’s children. Her granddaughter Antonia just graduated from Rhode Island School of Design and spent last summer running—not working at, but running—a summer camp. “A night home with my grandchildren— that’s the best party of all.”
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