75-year-old Diane von Furstenberg is reinventing her business. “It’s my third generation,” says Ms. von Furstenberg, who named Gabe Hirata, 33, president and CEO of her company, and named her granddaughter Talita von Furstenberg as co-chair.
The Belgian-born New York designer and entrepreneur launched her business in the early 1970s with the iconic wrap dress – a style of jersey she created during her pregnancy that combines comfort and polish for work and sex. The versatile dress caused such a stir that Ms. von Furstenberg appeared on the cover of Newsweek in 1976.
But the insanity eventually wore off, and Mrs. von Furstenberg, on the verge of bankruptcy, sold her licenses. She re-launched the brand in 1997, once again achieving global success. In recent years, its importance has declined. She says the pandemic has given her time to step back and rethink her eponym and write a book called Own It: The Secret of Life, published by Phaidon in March 2021.
The designer spoke to The Wall Street Journal about her post-lockdown work wardrobe, fashion in the metaverse and where her company is heading into the future.
In the 1970s, women didn’t have many options when it came to comfortable and trendy work clothes. Your wrap dress helped change that. Do you think women have different clothing needs today?
No, they are the same needs. It’s always about simplicity, sexy, movement and a woman’s personality. I’m more interested in what a woman will feel than in a stunning dress that’s totally uncomfortable.
We come back to the office after two years of working from home in leggings and sweaters. What will work clothes look like in this new normal?
Everyone wants to be more relaxed. Many people stop wearing high heels. They wear Birkenstock shoes or shoes if your mother tells you to wear them [before]You will follow her. And the color of course because it is very effective. This is the maximum effect, but in a practical way. We design a uniform for responsible women. If you want to be a responsible woman, practice is key.
What does it mean to be a responsible woman today compared to when you started your business?
For me, it’s pretty much the same. The woman in charge at the time was independent, able to pay the bills, and able to live a man’s life in a woman’s body. But being responsible is above all a commitment to ourselves. It is to own what we are. We own our flaws. We turn them into assets. We own our weakness. We turn them into strengths.
In 20 years, for example, what would the Responsible Woman costume look like?
I have no idea. Do you think that when you made the wrap dress you thought it would still fit? never.
Your wrap dress is included in MoMA’s 2017 show, “The Elements: Is Fashion Trendy?” Can you identify what made it relevant for so long?
I cannot. I know I made the wrap dress, but the wrap dress really made me. Thanks to the wrap dress I became independent, it worked, I was able to pay my bills. So it’s out of me, but it has a life in itself. I don’t know if I could have – well, obviously I get all the credit – but this is the dress he should be credited with making.
Over the past two years, you have restructured your business. Were you rethinking your job before Covid or was Covid the catalyst?
I wasn’t happy with what it was like before Covid. I always look forward. when I was [relaunched my brand] About 20 years ago I was way ahead of the game and then when I tried to develop it I thought we were going the old fashioned way. For me, Covid and having to review everything was an opportunity.
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How will these changes help your business move into the future?
I had many options. I can sell, but if I sell, I’ll sell all my archives. Or I can close. What Gabby did upon her arrival was hand over production and playback to my partner. [Glamazon] In China. He was very smart in terms of logistics and practicality. But it is still in the process of working now.
How do you plan to attract the younger audience while retaining your old customers?
Funny enough, every time I start it, it gets small. It is the young who bring back the old, not the other way around.
What will the fashion industry and your business – the founder of an old company – look like in 2030?
2030 now, tomorrow morning. For me, what I wish is that [my successors] You will maintain spirit and attitude. Now I put all my archives, all 50 years of experience, in this huge vault with codes, tricks, knowledge and all that. Then it’s in the hands of young people – my granddaughter, Gabe, and everyone else who works here – to do this, while respecting values and not trying 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 the world of your dreams, what has been the preoccupation of the fashion industry 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 get rid of it less.
What are you doing to make your business more sustainable?
Well, I try to make clothes that people won’t throw away. What about that?
What does the next generation of women expect from their clothes?
The world is changing so fast that there is absolutely no way for anyone to predict how we will live. [During] Covid, we have come very close to the digital world. My nine year old grandson would rather buy sneakers for his avatar than real sneakers for himself. Artificial intelligence is already here. I mean this [smartphone] this is my life. Read my books here, get my info here. You don’t need an atlas. I don’t need a dictionary. I don’t need anything. I communicate with everyone. I take pictures. Send photos. It’s all here.
Do you fancy hanging out in the Metaverse?
Yes sure. why not?
Could there be a virtual DVF world in the future?
The interview was shortened and edited.
write to Katharine K. Zarella at firstname.lastname@example.org
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