Diane von Furstenberg is our kind of woman. A multi-award-winning fashion designer who invented the iconic wrap dress; an impressive businesswoman whose clothes are available in over 70 countries; a survivor of the ultra-louche Seventies New York scene; a bone fide princess… Indeed, we heartily agree with Kate Moss who once told the Belgian-born designer, now 68, at a party: ‘I want to grow up to be you!’
Her life hasn’t always been quite so jolly, though. By her own admission, “At 25, I was a wunderkind. At 40, I was a has-been” after her company tanked in the Eighties. She has also battled cancer. So she knows a thing or two when it comes to words of wisdom.
Her book, The Woman I Wanted to Be, is out in paperback today. We’ve read it – it’s great – and have pulled together some of the best advice that DVF has to offer. As she says: “Living is learning, and as I look back at the many layers of experience I have collected, I feel ready to share some of the lessons I learned along the way… these are the lessons that allowed me to be the woman I am.”
1. ‘Fear is not an option’
Her mother, Lily, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, is one of her main inspirations. Lily used to write every year on her birthday: ‘God has saved my life so that I can give you life.’ She taught her daughter: fear is not an option. Hence DVF’s career trajectory – she sold her company at 36 and then, after years in the wilderness, relaunched it in 1997 to great acclaim – at the age of 50.
2. ‘Being impulsive is my most valuable quality, though it is also my biggest fault’
As a young woman married to a European royal, she didn’t know what she wanted to do – BUT she knew the kind of women she wanted to be: ‘independent and free’. And she knew that freedom could only come about if she became financially independent. She got into fashion after a fortuitous meeting at a party and lived on her instincts, launching the wrap dress in 1974 on a hunch that working women would appreciate the style; by 1978, she had sold one million.
3. ‘You cannot have a good relationship with anyone, unless you first have it with yourself’
She quotes George Sand: ‘There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved’. And boy, has she loved. In between her first and second marriages (to the American business tycoon Barry Diller), her countless lovers included Richard Gere, Warren Beatty and Ryan O’Neal. Love, for DVF, isn’t a need, it’s an adventure that you can only have when you become your own best friend.
4. ‘Confidence makes us beautiful, and it comes from accepting yourself’
Growing up, she hated the way she looked. She didn’t accept her curly hair until her thirties (‘I know all women with curls will identify with this struggle’). But with age comes wisdom, and she now believes that being born beautiful is a curse: ‘Counting too much on one’s appearance limits one’s growth’. Instead, states DVF, ‘personality, authenticity and charm’ is what makes a person attractive.
5. ‘The best thing about ageing is that you have a past’
And possibly the only good thing, but DVF has a point. ‘Ageing is out of your control. How you handle it, though, is in your hands’, she writes. And how does one go about this? According to DVF, once a woman gets deep into her forties, she must start becoming a myth ‘in whatever she does, even if it’s making the best chocolate mousse or being the best flower arranger’. In other words, she has to stand for something – and stay relevant. Oh, and one final tip: ‘Never, ever lie about your age.’
The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg (Simon & Schuster) is out in paperback now