Her story began in 1969 when she was invited to New York by German royalty, Prince Edvard Egon von und zu Furstenberg to discuss business. One thing led to another and despite family opposition, Diane Simone Michelle Halfin got married to her prince. And the rest, as they say, is history, recalls Shweta Bhatia
For Diane, being a princess was not enough. She wanted a career, she wanted to be someone on her own and it was in 1970, when she met renowned fashion editor Diane Vreeland that it began. Following the meeting, Vreeland listed her on the Fashion Calendar for New York Fashion Week with the belief that her designs were ‘absolutely smashing’. It was then that the brand and the personality- Diane von Furstenberg- was born.
With just $30,000 in her pocket, she opened her first store on Seventh Avenue where her designs were received fairly well and while her career began to bloom, her fairytale marriage came to a screeching halt. By 1972 the couple, who had two children between them, called it quits and while she continued to use the family name, she had to give up the official title.
But it was in 1974 that Diane created a garment that revolutionized fashion and the mark she made in its world. It was a simple jersey garment that twined around the body to enhance a ladies hourglass figure. It was a wrap dress. It was a garment that was implicative but not indecent. It was a dress that the modern woman could wear to work and then wear to a night out. And most of all, it was affordable.
In two years, Diane had sold over five million dresses worldwide and the brand took on a life of it’s own with a line of cosmetics and a perfume names after her daughter, Tatiana. The iconic design even landed her on the cover of Newsweek. But soon after is when things took a turn for the worse. The demand for the design began to fade and she ended up selling most of her licenses to avoid bankruptcy. And after a rollercoaster ride of successes and a series of business challenges, Diane decided to sell her company and take a hiatus from fashion.
“I knew that the wrap dress had tremendous staying power, and in the mid-nineties, all of the young, hip models had begun to buy them in the vintage shops. I saw an opportunity, but there were risks to doing it all over again,”she said, “There were times I doubted myself, but I alsoI knew the only thing that stood between me and rebuilding my brand, and reclaiming my future, was a fear of failure. A fear that maybe the fashion world would not take me seriously, or that a second attempt would fall flat, and make my early success seem like a happy coincidence. Considering all of this, I remembered something my mother always told me: ‘Fear is not an option.’ So I leaned in.”
Diane von Furstenberg was re-launched and the iconic wrap dress was re-introduced. This time around, everything was executed carefully and over time, the company grew to its current global luxury lifestyle brand status offering four complete collections a year and is available in over 70 countries.
In 2014, Diane von Furstenberg celebrates the 40th anniversary of its wrap dress and its continued relevance with a retrospective exhibition, Journey of a Dress, at the former Wilshire May Company Building in Los Angeles. From Diana Vreeland’s first letter declaring DVF’s clothes ‘absolutely smashing’ to a young Iman on the runway, Penélope Cruz on screen and Michelle Obama on her first White House Christmas card—every era of the storied dress is simply remarkable.
It was at the opening of the wrap dress exhibit in Los Angeles earlier this January when Diane said, “The wrap dress is the one thing that I owe everything to. She paid for all my bills; she paid for my children’s education. She even gave me my fame! Sometimes, I even resented the wrap dress because whenever someone said my name, they always tied it to the dress. I wanted to say, ‘Hey, I make other things too!’ But as I got older, I realized its impact. It not has a life of its own. The wrap dress gave me my freedom.”