Diane von Furstenberg was born Diane Simone Michelle Halfin in Brussels, Belgium, in 1946. Her introduction to fashion was as an assistant to a photographer and filmmaker's agent in Paris, her first job on leaving the University of Madrid and graduating in economics from the University of Geneva. Familiar with the 1960s jet-set life, she married Prince Egon von Furstenberg in 1969 and moved with him to New York. They were a glamorous couple, luminaries of society columns, and attended celebrity parties and balls. However, in keeping with the burgeoning feminist movement of the early 1970s, and wishing to be financially independent, von Furstenberg realized the significance of women's emergence into the world of work. She capitalized on women's desire for simple, wearable clothes that were flattering but also smart. From 1970 to 1977 she became the owner-designer of the Diane von Furstenberg Studio, which produced easy to wear polyester, cotton, and silk knit dresses in her signature prints. Her iconic wrap dress, however, which first appeared in 1973, established her reputation as the designer of the moment and promoted her name into a worldwide brand.
Iconic Wrap Dress
Von Furstenberg's wrap dress was practical, versatile, and sexy. Manufactured at the Ferretti factory in Italy, the dresses were initially stored and the orders processed in the dining room of her home. Cut to flatter, the dress wrapped in front and tied at the waist and was made from drip-dry cotton jersey. She remembers in her autobiography, "I had no focus groups, no marketing surveys, no plan. All I had was an instinct that women wanted a fashion option beside hippie clothes, bell-bottoms, and stiff pant-suits that hid their femininity."
Expanding the Brand
In 1975 she brought out a scent, Tatiana, named after her daughter. She expanded into home furnishings with The Diane von Furstenberg Style for Living Collection for Sears, and in 1977 she reorganized the company to deal solely with licensees for the fashion line, luggage, scarves, cosmetics, and jewelry. By the end of 1979 the combined retail sales of all the products bearing the von Furstenberg name came to $150 million. The extent of the licensing deals undermined the quality of the brand, however, and she closed her business in 1988.
The 1990s predilection for 1970s fashion meant that the wrap dress achieved cult status and was eagerly sought after from vintage shops. Following her success on the QVC home-shopping channel, von Furstenberg and her daughter-in-law, Alexandra, relaunched the business in 1997 and put the wrap dress back into production, this time in silk jersey with a new range of colors and prints.
Diane von Furstenberg will always be identified with the wrap dress; it typifies the era of women's sexual and political liberation. Its reemergence is evidence of the continuing desire of women for simple, one-stop dressing that is both flattering and versatile.
See also Fashion Designer; Fashion Marketing and Merchandising.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style. Harry N. Abrams, 1989.
Diane Von Furstenberg. Diane: A Signature Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.