“My vision in life is to empower women through clothes, through mentoring, through philanthropy,” are words Diane Von Furstenberg has returned to many times over the course of her 46-year career in fashion. In an industry that has often been known to cast trends, designers and models off within a season, DVF (as she is best known), has remained at the forefront of women’s wardrobes and lives. Not only is her business still thriving, but she heads up a huge family charitable foundation and sits on the board of Vital Voices, a women’s leadership organization.
When she was honored as a Women of the Year in 2005 – at the age of 59 – it was in recognition of how DVF (as she is best know) was continuing to smash the taboos; winning a lifetime awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, all while outshining designers half her age on the social scene.
Truth be told, she would have deserved the award numerous times over in her career. Aged 29, in 1976, she made the front page of The Wall Street Journal. DVF was marking the 5 millionth wrap dress sold – her iconic signature design that revamped the wardrobes of a global army of working women. Newsweek called her “the most marketable woman in fashion since Coco Chanel.”
But, life wasn’t plain sailing. In the mid-eighties her $100 million empire was in trouble; she was in debt and had let too many outsiders buy in. Needing a clean break, she sold the business and stepped out of the limelight. Not to be written off, in 1992 she came back – coming up with the industrious and taboo-smashing idea to sell her wares on QVC. No other big-name designer had ever dared to do that before – and her gumption proved all the naysayers wrong. She netted $1.3 million in her first two hours on air. And in 1997 she officially relaunched again – this time on her own – and never looked back.
She credits her mother, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust with teaching her that “fear is not an option.” And fellow Glamour Women of the Year winner Susan Sarandon told Glamour in 2005 that “Diane assumes all women can accomplish whatever they want without sacrificing what makes them women.”