The Journey of a Dress
By Jordan Staggs | Photography by Moda Alma Photography
“Feel like a woman, wear a dress!”
These words illuminated the polished corridor leading into the Journey of a Dress exhibition at the Wilshire May Company Building in Los Angeles. The journey is that of the wrap dress, to be exact. Designer Diane von Furstenberg debuted her first wrap style in 1974 when she was just twenty-six years old, and it was the dress that launched her career as well as her destiny to become an icon of fashion and feminism. The exhibition is her love letter to the dress as a celebration of its fortieth anniversary—and the dress is still kickin’. The versatile style, which wraps around itself in the front and ties at the waist, has been worn by women around the world since its debut. Celebrities, models, and girls and women everywhere have worn it with ease, exuding an air of beauty that can only stem from confidence.
“I’m going to celebrate what this dress means, which is freedom and empowerment and confidence,” Diane von Furstenberg said at the opening of the exhibition in LA as she sported a kimono-inspired wrap design herself. The dress changed her life and the lives of many women, according to von Furstenberg. As she and fashion model Coco Rocha perused the vintage photographs and advertisements of the wrap dress that line the entrance hall of the exhibition—the same building that housed the May Company department store where the wrap dress was sold in the 1970s—she jokingly said the dress paid all her bills. She wasn’t joking about the simple design’s success, however. Esteemed Vogue editor Diana Vreeland praised von Furstenberg’s first silk jersey wrap dresses and subsequently got her onto the calendar at New York Fashion Week. The dresses—and von Furstenberg herself—haven’t slowed down since.
Rita Hayworth, Madonna, Michelle Obama, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, are just a few celebrities to don the wrap dress over the years. It’s also been seen on the silver screen on Cybill Shepherd in Taxi Driver and on Amy Adams in the recent 1970s-inspired comedy-drama American Hustle. The vintage piece worn by Adams is on display as one of two hundred dresses featured in the exhibition.
Another part of the Journey of a Dress exhibit is devoted to portraits of the designer created in various media by artists from around the world, including her friend Andy Warhol, whose poppy and dollar sign patterns have been seen in von Furstenberg’s collections for years.
Diane von Furstenberg’s designs have long been inspiring and empowering women to feel they can do anything men can do, and her efforts have earned her praise throughout the decades.
Diane von Furstenberg’s designs have long been inspiring and empowering women to feel they can do anything men can do, and her efforts have earned her praise throughout the decades. She was selected as a 2013 Women of Vision awardee by the Ms. Foundation, has become president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and is on the board of Vital Voices, an organization that focuses on helping women in leadership and social positions around the world make a difference. She has also founded various charities and made myriad contributions to organizations supporting the arts, fashion, and women’s rights. Whether inspired by her mother or her daughter, von Furstenberg has always striven to be a voice of “girl power,” working to stamp out the insecurities women are burdened with due to conventional ideas of beauty and body image. She, too, used to feel awkward and out of place in her native home, Belgium, where other girls had straight blonde hair, a stark contrast to her own curly brunette locks. She has recalled feeling “like an alien” compared to her peers.
You’re not born comfortable, but to be uncomfortable is so not practical and not attractive.
“You’re not born comfortable, but to be uncomfortable is so not practical and not attractive,” von Furstenberg said during an interview about the Journey of a Dress at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “You may as well be comfortable and accept you. You have to accept who you are. And it’s not always great. I mean, sometimes I feel terrible and look horrible, and then I have to take pictures. But then I just go for it, and then it’s okay. You just go for it. And that’s it! Life is very short. Insecurity is a waste of time.”
Once again, a designer’s inspiration has proven to be that true fashion is about self-expression through the art of clothing. A great dress makes the wearer feel comfortable and confident in her own skin—and in what covers it.
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The Diane von Furstenberg Journey of a Dress exhibition is on display until April 1, 2014, at 6067 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Visit dvf.com/wrap40 to learn more.