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Von Furstenberg, Diane

dress wrap line design

B. 1946

Birthplace: Brussels, Belgium

Awards: Fragrance Foundation Award, 1977
City of Hope Spirit of Life Award, 1983
Savvy Magazine Award, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988
Mayor’s Liberty Medal, 1986

Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress, the most recognizable fashion phenomenon of the 1970s, if not the century, hangs today in the Smithsonian Institution. As a result of its astonishing success—she sold five million dresses in five years—the Jewish girl who married a German prince at age twenty-two became not only one of the most photographed, talked about, and envied “beautiful people” of her era, but also head of her own company and the hottest designer in the world.

In Diane von Furstenberg’s 1998 autobiography, she writes about the famous dress with both modesty and pride. “The dress was nothing, really—just a few yards of fabric with two sleeves and a wide wrap sash. But the v-neck wrap design fit a woman’s body like no other dress…. Dressed up … [it] was ready to wear to a serious lunch or dinner; dressed down … it was comfortable to wear in an office. But mostly, the wrap was sexy in the way many women wanted to feel: chic, practical and seductive” (von Furstenberg, p. 80).

Raised in Brussels, educated in Switzerland, England, and Spain, von Furstenberg had traveled extensively by the time she was eighteen, vacationing in Gstaad at nineteen and working for an agent in Paris who represented famous fashion photographers when she was twenty. Her group included David Bailey, the hot fashion photographer married to Catherine Deneuve; Marisa Berenson, granddaughter of Elsa Schiaparelli; and J. Paul Getty, Jr. She moved to New York when she married Prince Egon Von Furstenberg, where she became friendly with artist Andy Warhol, jewelry designers Elsa Peretti and Kenneth J. Lane, Bianca Jagger, and Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, one of the first to recognize that the princess was on to something. And what was that something? A simple, sexy, practical little dress that was a washable blend of cotton and rayon, which made it both wrinkle-free and carefree. Much social significance has been attached to the wrap dress over the years. It has been described as the dress for the liberated woman, both sexually and socially, and as the bridge between expensive designer clothing and hippie chic. Whatever it symbolized, it definitely showed that women were ready for a change.

The Diane von Furstenberg name quickly became attractive to licensees who convinced her to let them use it on luggage, scarves, furs, sleepwear, and eyewear. Sears hired her to design a line of linens exclusively for them. Soon she developed a fragrance with the leading perfume house, Roure Du Pont, launching Tatiana, named for her daughter, in 1975. In addition, she created a highly successful cosmetics line, the Color Authority, soon after realizing that her dresses had saturated the marketplace and were no longer in such great demand.

In 1992 Diane von Furstenberg, who had sold her cosmetics company to Beecham Cosmetics in 1983 and spent the intervening years living a rich and cultured life in Paris, reconnected once more to the world of American design when she entered the QVC studio in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Silk Assets was the name of the silk separates line she created for the teleshopping network, taking in $1.3 million in its two-hour debut. Her most recent design coup came in 1997 when she and her daughter-in-law updated the wrap dress, and Saks Fifth Avenue enthusiastically purchased the line. Once again, the princess proved her uncanny sense of what is right for the moment.

Von Neumann, John (János) [next] [back] Volta, Alessandro (Giuseppe Anastasio), Count

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