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One of the main things we learned from spending an hour and a half listening to Diane von Furstenberg tell her life story at the 92Y Fashion Icons talk with Fern Mallis is that she has a voice like butter that rolls out with a wink. Can the Belgian accent have a drawl? Or would it be a lilt? Either way, most of her wit, which was in overdrive last night, is lost when her words get translated to the page.
But no matter. Although she spoke briefly about former DVF creative director Yvan Mispelaere's exit from the company ("He felt like his mission was accomplished so we parted") and gracefully dodged Mallis' prodding questions about a rumored IPO, the bulk of the evening was dedicated to all the details that went into the building DVF's empire. From family to husbands, and from the first wrap dress to Twitter, read on to learn some of what turned Diane von Furstenberg into the imitable DVF.
On parental guidance: "My mother gave me my strength, my mother gave me my character. She taught me the that the most important relationship is the relationship you have with yourself. And my father loved me a lot and that made me confident with men."
A brief history of the invention of jersey and the birth of the whole DVF empire: "I was doing an internship for an Italian man [Angelo Ferretti] who had three mills. One is a printing plant and there I learned everything about printing—discharge colors, pigment. Then he had another factory that he had just bought and it used to be a hose machine. And of course it was just at the beginning of pantyhose, so hose weren't that expensive, so he bought this machine for practically nothing. And then he took this machine and embellished it because there were two parts of the machine that would knit and turn them into hose. So I don't know exactly what he did, but through these machines, instead of using very, very thin nylon threads, he used cotton. And it was the beginning of jersey."
In Paris, 1968, she befriended Marisa Berenson, a model and actress in her own right, but also the granddaughter of Elsa Schiaparelli: "[Elsa] was upstairs always and Marisa and I were downstairs, so I never really met her. She had the same way as my mother. She was a tyrant."
When DVF met her first husband, Prince Egon, she liked him because he was struggling to get his car out of the snow: "What attracts me to men, usually it's shyness and helplessness. I don't like a confident, jokey—ehh, you know—lawyer."
On empowering women: "I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew the woman I wanted to be and I became that woman, and I became that woman through fashion, therefore through other women. Now that I'm much older and I'm looking back, it's very nice to see that every facet of my life is all about empowering women."
She helps her son with the ladies: "It was very recently actually that my son said to me, he said 'You know, mummy'—no he doesn't call me mummy, actually; he either calls me mom or he calls me DVF—'I never realized that you were such an asset,' he said, 'Well, when I meet some girl on the plane or something and I talk to them, it's ok. But if I tell them you're my mom, that's it!' But it's not true. He's hot.
She didn't have an affair with Fidel Castro:
FM: And you spent two days with Fidel Castro.
DVF: Yes, but that's much, much later. ...I didn't have an affair with him.
During the second launch of her line in 1997, 97% of her employees were women: "Yes and I used to be very proud of it and say that in my company, the men drive or clean the toilets."
On Twitter: "In America I have 425,000 [followers] and in China I have 609,000. And I'm completely addicted. I wake up in the morning and check how many more Chinese are there."
For her marriage to to media mogul Barry Diller in 2001, his gift to her was 26 wedding bands, one for each of the years they weren't married: "It's true, and whenever one of my friends is sad, I give her one."
This is how she stays looking fresh: "On Sunday morning I was so tired and I'd had such a long week with all these fittings and things and I looked in the mirror and I looked so defeated. And I said, you can't look defeated, I mean I have a fashion show, thousands of people come and they take pictures, I can't look defeated. And so I hang myself upside-down."
A summary of her work: "I had three eras of my business. The moment the goal was to become independent—financially independent. I was very happy and I gained an American dream. When I went back to work 14 years ago, it was "The Come Back Kid." And at the time, my motivation was to show myself and the world that it hadn't been an accident the first time. And I did that. And now I realize that I have created a brand, and I look back at this big body of work and its huge recognition. I just finished doing a brand book and it was just amazing. I mean it was like going through therapy—although I've never been to a therapist."
· DVF's Creative Director, Yvan Mispelaere, Has Left the Company [Racked]
· All DVF Coverage [Racked]