It was in her first fashion industry job as assistant to a photographers agent in Paris that Diane von Furstenberg, “began to understand the value of image and the flow of the fashion industry.” That’s the secret ingredient in the von Furstenberg story: image, the image she created and promoted of the cosmopolitan, jet setter with all the right friends who was her own best model, salesperson, and PR flack. Her face and her dramatic signature on her products were hallmarks of her brand.
The reason we know von Furstenberg’s name at all is because of a clever invention of hers, the wrap dress. When she was trying to figure out a way to live and work in New York, she saw a gap in women’s apparel—between wacky, “hippie designer clothes” and drip-dry polyester, and filled it with simple dresses. At first they were cotton knit prints and silk tent dresses. But it was her wrap that became ubiquitous.
“The first wrap dress arrived in 1973 in a wood-grain print. The dress was nothing, really—just a few yards of fabric with two sleeves and a wide wrap sash. But the V-neck wrap design fir a woman’s body like no other dress…chic, practical, and seductive.” — DVF
This is a two-track autobiography, one of the businesswoman and one of the personal life of a woman who married a prince, knew Everyone, and because she knew everyone was able to walk through a number of very interesting doors.
She describes meeting Diana Vreeland, her red laquered nails matching the walls of her office. In fact, what this narrative lacks in compelling writing—it’s often dry and uninspired—it more than makes up for in little details of the notable encounters and experiences (von Furstenberg can’t help but toss around truckloads of fabulous names: Marisa Berenson, LouLou de La Falaise, Kenneth Jay Lane, Calvin Klein, Halston, Scavullo, Bianca Jagger), of clothes and accessories that vividly evoke their time. In other words, the story is there even if the telling is lacking.
At the same time, her trials as an ambitious, if sometimes bumbling, businesswoman, are terribly interesting, with choices including a great deal of licensing (eventually leading to the complete loss of control of products under her name) as well as developing fragrances and cosmetics. This story, of the businesswoman, is really the more riveting, with its lurching forward movement, very highs, abrupt reversals, and the long climb back.