Diane von Fürstenberg (born Diane Halfin) is known for her iconic wrap dresses, which are still popular among many women today. In honour of the dresses' 50th anniversary, the Fashion & Lace Museum in Brussels set up an exhibition about the designer, her career and influence on the industry. A fact only few know is that Von Fürstenberg was born in Brussels. FashionUnited takes a look at the designer's life history.
Diane Haflin was born in post-war Brussels in 1946, her father Romanian and her mother Greek. She attended the Lycée Dachsbeck in Brussels after which she was sent to boarding schools in Switzerland and England. While studying in Switzerland, she met her future husband: Prince Eduard Egon von Fürstenberg (to be called Egon). They married in 1969, shortly before their son Alexander Egon was born, and separated in 1973 before officially divorcing in 1983. Although Diane was no longer with her husband, she decided to keep his last name.
Before moving to New York in 1970, she learned the art of cutting, colouring and designing fabrics from Italian Angelo Ferretti.
“Colours are letters, prints are words and fabric and silhouettes make up the sentence,” Von Fürstenberg said about the art of textiles. In Italy, she came up with the idea of printing jersey and turning a wrap blouse into an entire dress. Encouraged by her husband at the time, Von Fürstenberg began selling her designs in New York, her brand known under the acronym DVF.
Von Fürstenberg later met leading Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, which can partially be put down to her move to New York. Vreeland saw a future in the designer's wrap dresses and encouraged her to present her designs during fashion week. No sooner said than done, Von Fürstenberg had her name added to the New York Fashion Week calendar. It turned out to be a hit because soon after the launch of the wrap dresses, about 25,000 pieces a week were being sold, according to business magazine Forbes. By 1976, Von Fürstenberg had sold 1 million of the items.
A contrast to the unisex suits of the 1970s, the dress offered women a look that worked both at the disco and in the office. “Dressing up in one step. Chic, comfortable and sexy. It doesn't get dated after one season. It works at all kinds of times, is easy to travel with and it fits all the priorities a woman can have,” Von Fürstenberg explained. Her tagline for the wrap dresses was therefore: “Feel like a woman, wear a dress” - a phrase that can even be found on the cards attached to the garments.
Who is Diane von Fürstenberg?
Von Fürstenberg was one of the first designers to put an emphasis on her jet-setting life. Whereas many designers hid their wealth and heritage until that point, she actually used it to appeal to an audience. In Britain, this tactic did not catch on right away, but in the US, her background as a former princess pushed her brand's popularity.
Von Fürstenberg has made her mark on fashion history with the wrap dress, receiving many awards for her efforts and influence. In 2005, for example, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). In 2015, she was named one of the 100 Most Influential People by Time magazine. And in 2020 she received the honorary title of Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in France.
Belgium followed close behind, and awarded Von Fürstenberg with the title Commandeur de l’Ordre de la Couronne in 2021. Her most recent award is the one she received in March 2022 - the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Woman of Leadership Award. She received this for her “outstanding leadership and commitment to women”.
Together with her second husband Barry Diller, whom she married in 2001, she founded the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation. Under this organisation, they establish the DVF Awards that honour and financially support women who demonstrate leadership, strength and courage in achieving their goals.
In addition to being a designer, Von Fürstenberg is also a writer. She has written several books: A Signature Life, The Woman I Wanted To Be, Own It and The Secret to Life.
The exhibition 'Diane von Furstenberg. Woman before Fashion' will be on display at the Fashion & Lace Museum in Brussels from April 21, 2023 to January 7, 2024. FashionUnited will be visiting the press preview, so keep an eye out for our first-look.
This article was created based on information from the books 'The Fashion Book', 'The Great Fashion Encyclopedia', an article by The Business of Fashion, and information from the Fashion & Lace Museum in Brussels.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and edit by Cenia Zitter.