Diane Von Furstenberg is not just a fashion legend, she’s also a very strong, feminine, independent and complicated woman who happens to be behind one of the biggest fashion labels of all time. Yes, she married a prince, and was friends with Andy Warhol, but this mega famous designer also has a more down to earth – Her main goal in life is to empower women.
Recently Diane Von Furstenberg (DVF) was interviewed by Anamaria Wilson at Harpers Bazaar. The interview is so interesting and personal that we just couldn’t resist sharing it!
Here’s the interview:
Harper’s Bazaar: Do you ever want to give it all up?
Diane von Furstenberg: I don’t think I have been more active ever than I am now. I’ve never been busier. I’ve never worked harder.
And Barry asked me why. But I’m loving my life right now. And I just need 20 years more than whatever is assigned to me, because I feel that there’s so much that I want to do.
The wonderful thing about my life right now is just that it feels so coherent. Obviously, first there’s my children, and I’m so proud of them. And they are fully grown up, they are aging, and they have children. So I can really say that, okay, they turned out well. My son is a great financier; he’s very successful. My daughter is a filmmaker. So I’m very accomplished as a mother and as a grandmother.
Ten years ago I started my business again after having stopped, and I’m very accomplished in my business. And I have great satisfaction because the older I get, the younger my consumers are. And that’s kind of fun, and that’s kind of keeping me young and making me relevant.
And then as a woman, you know, my great discovery right now is that the biggest gift in life is to be able to give. I realize that I can make one phone call that doesn’t cost me anything and change someone’s life.
HB: What has your mission been?
DVF: To empower women. Why? Because I wanted to be an empowered woman, and I became an empowered woman. And now I want to empower every woman. And I do it through my clothes, I do it through my words, I do it through my money, I do it through everything.
HB: Was your mother the most influential person in your life?
DVF: Yes. But you know, I’m not the only one; most people’s mothers are the most influential person in their life. But my mother survived the camps, and she was very strong. She made me strong, but she wanted me to be strong. That’s more important.
HB: And your father?
DVF: My father [Russian-born businessman Leon Halfin] was adorable. My father loved me, which made my relationship with men easy.
HB: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
HB: What do you think drove you to accomplish so much, so young? At 27, you had made it.
DVF: Yes, by 29 I was on the cover of Newsweek. I don’t know, but that was lucky. I mean, it’s very important to start very young. And I don’t know why, it just happened. I got pregnant and everything happened.
HB: Do you still love the wrap dress?
DVF: Yes, I mean, listen, how can I not? It paid for all my bills.
HB: Is there anything in your life that’s made you insecure?
DVF: I used to be very insecure about my curly hair, because I lived in a country where everybody had blonde straight hair.
HB: When did you get over it?
DVF: One day in 1976, I did a picture for the cover of Interview. And I had my hair very straight, blown out, and so we did the shoot, we shot the picture. And then my friend the photographer said, “Now wet your hair.” And I said, “What do you mean? I can’t wet my hair.” And he said, “I just want to try something.” And my hair was superfrizzy, and of course that’s what ran on the cover, and that’s how I’ve worn it since.
HB: Your mother said to you that fear wasn’t an option, but was there anything that made you afraid?
DVF: I was terrified the first time that I had a big problem in my business. I was obviously terrified when they diagnosed me with cancer in 1994. I was terrified when my son used to drive too fast. But I do believe in the fact that fear is not an option, so I always try to face it and not be afraid.
HB: Whom do you attribute your independent nature to?
DVF: That’s really who I am. I think it had to do with the fact that my mother was in jail, that she was in the camps. I think it must.
HB: So even when you were a little girl, you had that?
DVF: Always, always. And my children are like that, and my grandchildren are like that. So I think that it’s probably a little bit in our genes, and then certainly in our education.
HB: Now, you realize that you’re a commanding, magnetic presence. Were you always like that?
DVF: You don’t see yourself like that. Nobody does. You know, there’s a thing about the woman across the room. You see the woman across the room, you think, She’s so poised; she’s so together. But she looks at you and you are the woman across the room for her.
HB: Do you think European women are more confident?
DVF: No, no. People say that, and this and that, but no. But I think idle women are more insecure. I think it’s very important for women to have children, but I think it’s very important for women to work.
HB: When would you say you were the happiest?
DVF: I think now. But I think you could have asked me many times in my life and I would have always said now. Except my 40s. In my 40s, I wasn’t always the happiest, but I probably would have said that I was.
HB: Who would you say is the love of your life?
DVF: My children. And Barry. But my children first, I will say for sure.
HB: Did you think that Barry would be such a major force in your life when you first met him?
DVF: Yes, I fell madly in love when I first met him. Really in love — we were very in love for five years. And then I left him. And he somehow was always that presence who drove the other men crazy, because they were jealous of him. And now we’ve known each other for 35 years, and he’s loved me so much.
HB: So what do you think the secret to a successful marriage is?
DVF: Respect. And space.
HB: What would you say is your favorite thing about being married?
DVF: I don’t know. No one’s ever asked me that. I mean, I don’t particularly like to be married. I don’t know. It feels very natural. I don’t feel like I’m a prisoner. So the things I like the best about being married are probably the things that aren’t very typical about being married. I can’t believe I married twice. I so don’t care about being married.
HB: Is Barry a lot different now than he was when you first met?
DVF: I was 28. He was 33. He’s more patient, but with me he was always patient. With me he’s the same. He just loves me unconditionally.
HB: What do you attribute that to, chemistry?
DVF: Oh, yes. It’s, you know, there’s no way that you can explain a relationship. Everyone is so different and so unique, and it’s chemistry, whatever. You can’t explain it. But there’s a true commitment. I mean, it was more on his side. Not originally; originally we fell madly in love, and then I left. And then he was kind of always present. But now I really … now it’s very even. It’s very nice, our relationship. But he is special. And he loves me so much. I can do no wrong.
HB: Did your mother meet him?
DVF: Oh yes, of course. My mother knew him very well. My mother died only nine years ago, at 80.
HB: Do you believe not in secrets, per se, but in mystery? In the need to keep some things to yourself?
DVF: You know, it’s very funny. I’m very open. I’m so myself. And yet, actually, I’m very private. My mother used to say I was. I hold my feelings. You just have to be natural; to try to provoke mystery is ridiculous. But yes, of course, what is always very attractive is what you don’t know about a person.
HB: Are you ever lonely?
DVF: No, but I love to be alone. I am often alone but never lonely.
HB: Have you always been that way?
DVF: Yes, but as you get older you like it more.
HB: How do you feel about the aging process?
DVF: I’m so attracted to women with wrinkles. I think the pendulum is going to go the other way. For men, it was always more beautiful. And I’m not saying you want to look like Louise Bourgeois or Georgia O’Keeffe, but still, it’s … it’s better to be you. To try to keep a young body — that’s getting very difficult.
HB: Do you watch what you eat?
DVF: Yes. No. I do, because I like to eat healthy. But I like chocolate. I like black chocolate, but that’s just part of being Belgian.
HB: What were those years like when you first left the clothing business in the ’80s?
DVF: Well, I lived in Paris, and I was living with a writer. And I really didn’t do very much, except I read a lot, and I had this fantasy of having a literary salon. When you live with writers — when you live with an artist — you don’t do much except live their lives.
HB: After that, in 1989, you moved back to New York. Did you lose yourself for a while?
DVF: A bit. But I didn’t realize it until I came back. So it’s when I came back to New York that I saw I had kind of lost that identity that I had from the minute I first arrived in New York and I was this success.
And all of a sudden I came back to New York. It’s the ’80s, Ivana Trump and all these people are everywhere, and greed has become a virtue. I just felt completely irrelevant. And people looked at me like I was a has-been. I tried to get my business back, it was in the hands of people who didn’t care, it had lost its spirit, it was horrible. It was the worst time. And it was really hard and really bad. And as a result I got cancer in my tongue — and I think it was because I was unable to express myself.
HB: How did you find the cancer?
DVF: It’s the most ridiculous thing. I had lunch with Ralph Lauren, because Barry had bought QVC and we were trying to get Ralph Lauren to come to QVC. So I didn’t really know Ralph very well. And we ordered one course because neither of us really wanted to do this lunch. But then we started to speak, and we spoke, and he became very open toward me. He had had a brain tumor, not malignant, and he was telling me about it. And I said, “How did you find out about it?” And he said, “It’s funny. I had a noise in my ear, and I went to the doctor, and there was nothing in my ear, but that’s when they found it.”
The minute he tells me that, I have a noise in my ear. And I think to myself, “I’m crazy. He tells me about that and I have a noise in my ear?” So I pay no attention. The next day, I still have a noise in my ear, so I immediately went to the doctor, who found nothing wrong with my ear. But he said, “You know you have a swollen gland here.” They took the biopsy. “It was nothing bad,” he said. “Well, it’s only a cyst, so there’s really no rush to take it out.” And I said, “No, no, I want it out.” And when they took it out, they cut it, they found little bad cells in it. I did eight weeks of radiation. But I was lucky; that was 15 years ago.
HB: Did you ever feel like you had failed at anything?
DVF: You know, I probably have, but I have a very funny way of processing obstacles and bad things. I somehow make them work for me. And I have very little memory for pain or things like that. I process things that are not good and I make them work for me.
HB: That said, have you ever been heartbroken?
DVF: Yes, once. But he loves me still, so it’s okay. It’s alright. I did once. Once, a man left me.
HB: But they say that once you’ve had your heart broken, after that you never really have your heart broken again.
DVF: Yeah, but that was really — that was not so long ago. It was a late part of my life. It’s okay, I love him. We’re still very close.
HB: How do you find your peace?
DVF: I need silence, I need solitude. I love to be in the country. I found my peace in my house in the country, Cloudwalk. I love to hike, I love to swim, I love to read. I find my peace within silence. I don’t know how people do it. But if on weekends I had to have a social life, I couldn’t do that.
HB: How would you describe your own style?
DVF: I like to think that my style and the clothes I design are effortlessly elegant and sexy. I think the word effortless is very important. I think that that creates an ease and a confidence, because I think there’s nothing more beautiful than a woman who’s confident.
My wrap dress was almost accidental. It’s the most traditional shape, like the kimono shape, no buttons or zipper, and it wraps. But what was different about it is that it was made in jersey, and it was tied to the body, and therefore it kind of sculpted the body. And then because it was in a snake and a leopard print, it made you look feline. I’ve touched so many generations with just that one dress, which is unique. I mean, no one has ever had such a thing.
But then from there, I think I have become a pro. And I understand fabric very well. And I understand color very well, and print and shapes. And I work with young designers and Nathan [Jenden, her creative director] and my team from Central Saint Martins. And it’s wonderful because it’s really so nourishing for me, for them. I’m surrounded with young people. I never see people my age. It keeps me very young and relevant. But at the same time, I have so much to give them.
HB: Did you always think of yourself as a designer?
DVF: I was shy about considering myself a designer because I didn’t study design. And it was circumstances that took me there. But now, after all these years, I know I am a designer. And I know what I’m doing.
HB: And do men respond to women in your clothing?
DVF: Yes, but not always. Men recognize my clothes; men love my clothes.
HB: What do you see women doing style-wise that bothers you?
DVF: I don’t like when women try to be something that they’re not. I don’t like anything that’s forced.
HB: You have a very bohemian vibe.
DVF: To a certain degree, but I mean, I am a voyager. I come, I go, I pack. I am a little bit of a gypsy.
HB: What do you feel is the greatest lesson that you’ve learned?
DVF: In life? It’s funny, but I think that I have learned that to be kind, to give, is the best gift. I think that’s the big lesson. I’m lucky, because early on I realized that I should be my best friend. That’s the lesson that I would like to give everybody.
HB: In what sense?
DVF: Well, I think that you have to be your best friend in life, because the relationship that matters most is the one you have with yourself.
HB: Do you feel like you get a lot of media attention? Does it bother you?
DVF: No, that’s what has helped me. I really haven’t had any people being really mean to me. Or if I have, I don’t remember.
HB: But you’ve been open about you and Barry being very close but sort of allowing yourself different space. [The couple have separate Manhattan residences.]
DVF: But that’s during the week. I mean, that’s because I like that. We need that. You know, but that’s fine. Who cares? So?
HB: Well, only because it’s not conventional.
DVF: Oh, I’m not conventional. I’ve never been conventional. Who wants to be conventional?
HB: So you don’t really care what people think about you?
DVF: Yeah, I do very much care what people think. All I want is people to know, to see me as I am. And that’s all that matters. I stand for who I am. I am as transparent as can be. I have no skeleton in any closet. There is nothing that anyone can blackmail me with. Because I’m very open, and there is nothing that I have done in my life that I would be really embarrassed for anyone to know.
HB: Who in your life would you say knows you best?
DVF: Barry knows me very well. My children know me very well. But no one knows me better than I know myself.