As a 75-year-old, Diane von Furstenberg is working on a reinvention of her business. “This is my third generation rebirth,” said Ms. von Furstenberg, who for the past two years has appointed Gabby Hirata, 33, president and CEO of her company and hired her granddaughter Talita von Furstenberg as co-chair.
The New York-based Belgian-born designer and entrepreneur launched her business in the early 1970s with the famous wrap-around dress – a jersey style she created during her pregnancy that combined comfort, work-friendly polishing and sexiness . Studio 54-worthy appeal. Versatile dress attracted so much attention that Mrs. von Furstenberg made the cover of Newsweek in 1976.
But the madness eventually subsided, and Mrs. von Furstenberg, on the verge of bankruptcy, sold her licenses. She relaunched the brand in 1997 and once again became a worldwide success. In recent years, its relevance has declined. The pandemic, she says, has given her time to step back and reconsider her eponymous label and write a book, “Own It: The Secret of Life,” published by Phaidon in March 2021.
The designer spoke to The Wall Street Journal about post-lockdown work wardrobe, fashion in the meta-verse, and where her business is heading into the future.
In the 1970s, women did not have many options when it came to comfortable, fashionable workwear. Your wrap-around dress helped change that. Do you think women have different needs for clothes today?
No, they are the same needs. It’s always about simplicity, the sexy, the movement and the woman’s personality. I am much more interested in how the woman will feel than the striking dress that is downright uncomfortable.
We return to the office after two years of working from home in leggings and sweatshirts. What will workwear look like in this new normal?
Everyone wants to be much more laid back. Many people have stopped wearing high heels. They wear Birkenstocks or shoes if your mother asked you to wear them [before], you would pursue it. And the color of course, because it is very effective. This is maximum effect, but in a practical way. We design a uniform for the responsible women. If you want to be a responsible woman, exercise is key.
What does it mean to be a responsible woman today compared to when you started your business?
To me, it’s pretty much the same. A responsible woman at the time was self-employed, able to pay the bills and able to have a man’s life in a woman’s body. But being responsible is, above all, an obligation to ourselves. It is to own who we are. We own our imperfections. We turn them into assets. We own our vulnerability. We make it strengths.
What will the “responsible woman” uniform look like if e.g. 20 years?
I have no idea. Do you think when I made the wrap-around dress, I thought it would still be relevant? Not at all.
Your wrap-around dress was included in the 2017 MoMA Exhibition, “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” Can you identify what made it relevant for so long?
I can not. I know I created the wrap-around dress, but the really wrap-around dress made me. It is thanks to the wrap-around dress that I became self-employed, that I managed to pay my bills. So it came out of me, but it has a life in itself. I do not know if I can get – yes, of course I get all the credit – but this is the dress that must have the credit to make me.
Over the past two years, you have restructured your business. Did you rethink your business before Covid, or was Covid the catalyst?
Wasn’t happy where it was before Covid. I always look forward. When I [relaunched my brand] About 20 years ago, I was far ahead of the game, and when I tried to cultivate it, I thought we were going the old-fashioned way. So for me, Covid and having to go through everything was an option.
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How will these changes help your business move into the future?
I had many options. I could sell, but if I sell, I sell all my files. Or I could close. What Gabby did when she arrived was to hand over production and operations to my partner. [Glamazon] in China. It was very smart in terms of logistics and practicality. But it is still in the work process now.
How do you plan to appeal to a younger audience while retaining your long-term customers?
Funnily enough, I get young every time I start. It is the young people who bring the old back, not the other way around.
What will the fashion industry and your job – the founder of an old company – look like in 2030?
2030 is now, it’s early tomorrow. For me, that’s what I hope for [my successors] will preserve the spirit and attitude. Right now I’m putting all my archives, all my 50 years of experience, in this huge box with the codes and tricks and know-how and all that. Then it’s in the hands of the young people – my granddaughter, Gabby, whoever else works here – to do it, respect the values and not try to be something we are not. DVF is about respecting women and giving them the tools to be the woman they want to be.
In your dream world, what will be the fashion industry’s biggest concern in 10 years?
Fashion is not just about clothes. Fashion is what you eat, what you use in your home. It’s architecture, it’s food. Fashion is in the air, it’s not just what you wear. So what I hope is that we respect nature more and that we throw out less.
What are you doing to make your business more sustainable?
Well, I’m trying to make clothes that people do not want to throw out. What about that?
What will the next generation of women expect from their clothes?
The world is changing so fast and so much that there is absolutely no way for anyone to predict how we will live. [During] Covid, we have come much, much closer to the digital world. My nine-year-old grandson would rather buy sneakers for his avatar than real sneakers for himself. AI is here already. I mean it [smartphone] is my life. I read my books here, I get my information here. I do not need an atlas. I do not need a dictionary. I do not need anything. I connect with everyone. I take pictures. I send pictures. Everything is here.
Do you want to hang out in Metaverse?
Yes of course. Why not?
Could there be a virtual DVF world in our future?
The interview has been compressed and edited.
Write to Katharine K. Zarrella at email@example.com
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