fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

Wielding the Torch

Diane von Furstenberg and the Evolution of Feminism

By Jordan Staggs

“The minute I knew I was about to be Egon’s wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her deserts.” This is what internationally known fashion designer, author, and philanthropist Diane von Furstenberg told the New York Times in February of 1977 when discussing her former marriage to Prince Egon von Furstenberg of Germany and the title and privileges that came along with their 1969 union.

True to her heart and her word, the newly minted princess invested $30,000 in her eponymous fashion and beauty line; the brand’s worth grew to over $100 million in the first decade and has grown exponentially since.

Despite being a princess by marriage and more than financially secure, von Furstenberg bucked the norm when she started her business and continued to do so in more ways than that. In the beginning, she preached the importance of women using their power—looks and style included—to achieve their goals. Though the idea might seem a bit taboo today, she insisted that even intelligent and driven women should consider the importance of looking the part for any situation. Her beloved wrap dress design now has a permanent place in the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“I design for the woman who loves being a woman,” von Furstenberg says, but far from being limited to fashion tips, she has gone several steps further to help lift women up in spirit, style, and power, often through disrupting social and political norms. She said at the 2017 Women in the World New York Summit, "I’ve been disrupting for a long time. I became who I wanted to be through a little dress, and through that same little dress, I made a lot of women feel good about who they are; so my legacy is to tell women they can be the woman they want to be."

She and her husband, Barry Diller, formed the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation to aid nonprofit organizations in everything from creating safe and healthy communities to supporting the arts, education, the environment, human rights, and more. Through the foundation, von Furstenberg also established the annual DVF Awards in 2010; the awards honor five women each year who have committed themselves to furthering women’s causes. The 2019 honorees were Nadia Murad, Hadeel Mustafa Anabtawi, Susan Burton, Katy Perry, and Anita Faye Hill.

The DVF Awards is an affiliate of Vital Voices, a global partnership whose mission is to improve the world through supporting and investing in women leaders from all industries and walks of life.

“I was born with a torch of freedom in my hand, and that is very heavy to carry. I have honored my mother because I fight for freedom and I fight for the people who want freedom, because freedom is everything.”

When speaking about her drive to support her fellow women across the globe, von Furstenberg credits her mother, Liliane Nahmias, a survivor of the Holocaust who had been imprisoned at Auschwitz just a year and a half before her daughter was born. Von Furstenberg says her mother called her daughter “her torch of freedom” because she gave her new life after the horrors she endured during that time. “I was born with a torch of freedom in my hand, and that is very heavy to carry,” von Furstenberg says. “I have honored my mother because I fight for freedom and I fight for the people who want freedom, because freedom is everything.”

And, of course, she fights with an impeccable sense of style and an irreverence that could only belong to a self-proclaimed disrupter. She encourages having fun, living life to the very fullest, dismantling the patriarchy, and being whomever and whatever you want to be. “Women are so strong. Women are so wonderful. Women are so powerful. Why the f**k are you insecure?” she asked at Women in the World, quickly admitting, “I’m insecure, too.”

The designer commissioned fellow disrupter Ashley Longshore, a New Orleans–based pop artist, to create a series of thirty-seven original paintings to debut at the DVF flagship store in New York City on March 8, 2019—International Women’s Day. Each painting depicted a powerful “woman in charge” in all her colorful, whimsically unique beauty. Several of them, including Gloria Steinem and Michelle Obama, were painted wearing DVF heritage prints and styles.

“I was immediately impressed by Ashley’s contagious enthusiasm and vibrant talent,” said von Furstenberg of the idea. “I knew she was a ‘woman in charge,’ and I felt she would be perfect to curate our next inspiration room, especially with International Women’s Month approaching. The collaboration felt seamless.”

Longshore describes being commissioned by von Furstenberg as “a dream.” She says, “Diane has an incredible legacy that she built for herself, not only as a brilliant fashion designer and entrepreneur but also as the godmother to the Statue of Liberty, raising $100 million for that incredible museum on Liberty Island, and the ongoing efforts she makes to connect amazing women with each other, to wake up in the morning and to try to do something for somebody that they may not be able to do for themselves.” The artist, who is known for painting (often irreverent) portraits of powerful women and men, says she learned a lot while creating pieces for the DVF installation. “I think the greatest lesson was not about the accomplishments these women have made, but rather how they dealt with adversity in their lives—and all of them have faced huge amounts of adversity in one way or another. That, to me, is the connectivity. It isn’t all about perfection, money, being thin, or having the right clothes; it’s about what you do when everything goes to hell in a handbasket and how you pick yourself up, give yourself a pep talk, and continue to stand up for yourself when nobody else believes in what you’re doing. I think that’s where the magic is.”

“That is very much what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, is to use my voice and to capture the voices of other women to weave into a fabric of strength, compassion, and impact to make this world a better one.”

Pieces of the collection are still on display and available for purchase at the DVF flagship store. And stay tuned, because Longshore says her partnership with von Furstenberg isn’t over yet.

At age seventy-two, what is the secret to von Furstenberg’s seemingly endless supply of energy and her passion for propelling “the feminist agenda”? She is a vocal advocate for designing your own life, as professed in her September 2019 speaking engagement at TEDxVeniceBeach. Again citing the wisdom of her mother, von Furstenberg gives two lessons she learned as a young girl: “Fear is not an option,” and “No matter what, you can never be a victim.” This advice comes not from a position of shame but from a reminder of something she realized when looking in a mirror: “I have control over myself, and it’s probably been the most useful thing I have ever had.” Throughout her whole life, she says, she’s not worried about aging or things changing, because she gets to go through it with herself.

DVF, Diane von Furstenberg
Photo by Ovidiu Hrubaru / Shutterstock

“The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself,” has become von Furstenberg’s mantra, and it is echoed loudly in her mission to empower women of all ages and with all types of dreams for their futures. The new voices of feminism seem to agree, drawing on the leadership and wisdom from independent foremothers such as von Furstenberg. She says, “That is very much what I want to spend the rest of my life doing, is to use my voice and to capture the voices of other women to weave into a fabric of strength, compassion, and impact to make this world a better one.”

Be yourself, love who you are, and design your life to reflect the woman you want to be.

— V —


Visit DVF.com to learn more.



Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
Summertime!
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail

X

A LIFESTYLE