ach week, we present an influential woman whose career and style has inspired the Silkarmour team to aim higher and dress better. This week’s Silkarmour woman is fashion designer and wrap-dress creator, CDFA president, former princess and Time magazine icon, Diane Von Furstenberg.
There is only one woman in the world who could digest the idea of motherhood and marrying a Prince whilst starting her own fashion brand within the space of half an hour. But Diane von Furstenberg is a woman like no other. Now the commander of a $500million company that is considered a trail-blazing beacon for female empowerment, von Furstenberg is just as fearless to this day; commanding enough industry respect to occasionally prioritise a facial over a meeting, having complete creative control in re-designing several hotel suites at Claridge’s and being recognised as a Time 100 icon; von Furstenberg has come a long way since designing her signature wrap dress.
The dress that “every woman should own” first started out as one woman’s amibition to pursue the American Dream. Arriving in the US in her early 20’s, von Furstenberg had her heart set on creating something universal for women; “sexy but effortless, easy and functional.” In a time in which fashion was eccentric, bold and overtly detailed, von Furstenberg’s wrap dress was an oh-so-simple-one-shot solution to sorting your outfit for the day. Although she had moments of doubt, thinking whether a simply wrap-dress made of jersey could really make a difference in people’s lives, “before I knew it, I lived the American dream, making more than 25,000 dresses a week.” The wrap dress was a woman’s opportunity to dismiss the stifling values of the previous generation and combine comfort with style in one simple solution, making von Furstenberg, as Newsweek aptly summarised, "the most marketable designer since Coco Chanel"; selling more than 5 million dresses within her first two years, she had redefined the timeless art of seduction by teaching women to cultivate confidence through comfort.
One cannot write about von Furstenberg without simultaneously discussing female empowerment as she was raised by a woman who survived the Holocaust, subsequently instilling in her one of the most valuable lessons any woman can learn; “fear is not an option”. Flooding Instagram and the endless online galleries of self-empowerment quotes, with her own pearls of wisdom, von Furstenberg could easily be considered one of the first pioneers of ‘feminist fashion’ in convincing millions of women to dress for themselves and embrace the effortless element of seduction, rather than the theatrical charade of previous generations that catered to the male gaze. “That's what my brand does," she says. "We sell confidence." On the other hand, von Furstenberg is dismissive of the term ‘strong woman’ in the belief that the two concepts are one and the same. “I've never met a woman who wasn't strong” she declared, “but I think men and religion can make them hide it. It’s telling that when tragedy strikes it's always the women who take over” – something British politics may be taking notes from…
It’s impossible not to like von Furstenberg for many reasons but for the most part it’s because after forty years in the stereo-typically venomous fashion industry, she remains as grounded and genuine as ever. Despite her rapid company expansion and millions of women thanking her for making them feel feminine again, von Furstenberg has never clung to relics of her past success. Her 1979 Newsweek cover spanned five continents and made her the most marketable woman to other women of her generation at just 29; “but it only lasted a week.” In the same fashion, von Furstenberg is acutely aware of how those of a less savoury nature have been known to try and cultivate a competitive attitude between women in business. In response, she dismisses this as nothing more than fruitless schemes for the power hungry; “You always compete with other women,” she said, when questioned about being part of ‘the sisterhood’, but was quick to add that it was necessary to “respect and admire them too.”
Shop the look: Allegra Dress by Madderson London | Fenestra Topaz Ring By House of Demu | Fenestra Cirtine Ring by House of Demu | Primrose Hill Pink Snake Shoes by Lucy Choi | Blue Python Clutch By ALLEGRA LONDON | White Pearl Chain Bracelet by ORA | Pusteblume Scarf by Feneun
These self-affirming principles have inevitably extended over into the infamous balancing act of ‘having it all.’ Stemming from her iconic self-assurance of knowing “the kind of woman I wanted to become”, finding a balance between the classic clash of work and family was something von Furstenberg mastered during her company’s infancy. She made it clear to her children that having a career was non-negotiable. “Very early on, I explained it to them — they went to school, I went to work. We each had our own obligations, our responsibilities and when we met at night, we would exchange our experiences”. Coming from a woman who juggled an unexpected pregnancy with integrating herself into the regimented life of German royalty whilst starting her own brand, it’s sound advice.
Today, the DvF brand has flourished beyond the association of a single dress; it’s a denominational umbrella in which women flock to for inspiration and motivation. Having set up a titan of a fashion brand and positioned herself as a leading figure in female-empowerment, Von Furstenberg is now focused on her legacy and leading by example in her golden years. "The wonderful thing about ageing is that you have a past” she says, a constant reminder that life is a series of lessons and we cannot move forward, grow or flourish from any experiencing without aging in the process. What’s more, she is a reminder not to cling to the obsessions of youth in the way the media would have us do. Youth, for all it's worth, is wonderful whilst we have it, she says, “but it is essential to learn from the past and look into the future without resentment.” The DvF website is a joyous reminder of that balance.. From behind the scene video footage on shoots and shows, to her empowering speeches at the DvF awards and flirty horoscopes to be read over your coffee break, it’s a well-rounded energetic orb of effervescent energy, providing the perfect pick-me-up for a bad day at the office
Although von Furstenberg has a long way to go before she passes the sceptre, those who remember her ascension will undoubtedly be following her to the end. But for those who were fortunate to come of age in a far more liberated time, von Furstenberg’s brand will provide the essential resources that a woman needs to become the best version of herself; her iconic tome, The Woman I Wanted to Be, to inspire and motivate the pursuit of her own accolades and the perfect dress to wear as she navigates the road to success.
Career Golden Nuggets
On sticking to your principles: “Whenever you talk about business, whenever you talk about love, whenever you talk about beauty, you have to have your truth, believe in your truth, and continue and stay on brand. It’s hard, and even when you’re successful, it’s hard to stay there.”
On following your gut instinct: "Be hard on yourself. Ask ‘Do I make sense? Am I crazy?' You can listen to everybody [else], but follow your heart. The worst mistake is to do something and then realise, 'I didn’t really want to do it but so-and-so told me to.'"
On maintaining a balanced outlook: “In any negotiations, put yourself in the other person’s seat and see what their interest is. Make sure with the distribution, the product—everything, that you both agree on it.”
On achieving your dreams: “Passion and persistence are what matter. Dreams are achievable and you can make your fantasy come true, but there are no shortcuts. Nothing happens without hard work.”