Biography of Diane von Fürstenburg, Belgian Fashion Designer

Diane von Furstenberg 2003
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Diane von Fürstenberg (born December 31, 1946) is a business executive and fashion designer. She is most famous for her wrap dress, made out of knit jersey fabric, which was first popularized in the 1970s. Fürstenberg's clothes have been worn by such influential figures and celebrities as Michelle Obama, Madonna, Kate Beckinsale, Susan Sarandon, and Jessica Alba.

Fast Facts: Diane von Fürstenberg

  • Known For: Fürstenberg designed a "wrap dress" that had a huge influence on women's fashion.
  • Also Known As: Diane Prinzessin zu Fürstenberg, Diane Halfin, Diane Simone Michelle Halfin
  • Born: December 31, 1946 in Brussels, Belgium
  • Parents: Leon Halfin and Liliane Nahmias
  • Education: University of Geneva
  • Spouse(s): Prince Egon von Fürstenberg (m. 1969-1972), Barry Diller (m. 2001)
  • Children: Prince Alexander von Fürstenberg, Princess Tatiana Desirée von Fürstenberg
  • Notable Quote: "Fashion is mysterious, as a rule. Why are blue jeans a classic? You just hit on something that happens to be timeless and right."

Early Life

Fürstenberg was born Diane Simone Michelle Halfin in Brussels, Belgium, on December 31, 1946. Her father, Leon Halfin, was a Moldavian emigre, and her mother, Liliane Nahmias, had been liberated from Auschwitz only 18 months before Diane's birth. Both parents were Jewish.

Education

Fürstenberg was educated in England, Spain, and Switzerland. She studied at the University of Madrid and later transferred to the University of Geneva, where her field of study was economics. After college, Fürstenberg worked as an assistant to Albert Koshi, an agent for fashion photographers in Paris. She then moved to Italy, where she worked for textile manufacturer Angelo Ferretti and designed silk jersey dresses.

New York and Independence

At the University of Geneva, Fürstenberg met a German prince who had been born in Switzerland, Egon zu Fürstenberg. They married in 1969 and moved to New York, where they had a high profile society life. The prince's family did not like that Fürstenberg was of Jewish heritage. Two children were born in quick succession: a son, Alexandre, in 1970, six months after the wedding, and a daughter, Tatiana, in 1971.

In 1970, with the prince's support, and likely influenced by the rise of feminism, Fürstenberg sought financial independence by opening the Diane von Fürstenberg Studio. She designed her own prints and made easy-to-wear dresses made out of silk, cotton, and polyester knits.

The Wrap Dress

In 1972, Fürstenberg designed the wrap dress that was to bring her so much recognition. The dress was made of cotton jersey; Furstenberg's intent was to create something both feminine-looking and easy to care for. The iconic original dress is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (alongside famous garments by Thom Browne, Rei Kawakubo, Marc Jacobs, and other designers).

Fürstenberg has described her design as simple, effortless, and classic:

"The wrap dress is the most traditional form of dressing: It's like a robe, it's like a kimono, it's like a toga. It doesn't have buttons or zippers. What made it different was that it was jersey; therefore, it was close to the body and it was a print."

The design had a huge influence on 1970s fashion; by the middle of the decade Fürstenberg had sold millions of dresses and made herself a household name.

Divorce and Business Expansion

In 1972, Fürstenberg and her husband divorced. She lost the right to the title of Princess zu Fürstenberg and restyled herself as Diane von Fürstenberg.

In 1975, she created the fragrance Tatiana, named for her daughter. The fragrance sold well, and by 1976 Fürstenberg was so well known that she appeared on the cover of Newsweek. Fürstenberg sold her studio and licensed her name to be used on other products. In 1979, products with her name represented sales of $150 million. By 1983, however, she had closed her cosmetics and fragrance business.

Comeback

From 1983 to 1990, Fürstenberg lived in Bali and Paris. She founded a publishing company in Paris called Salvy, which released works in translation by authors such as Vita Sackville-West, Barbara Pym, and Gregor von Rezzori. In 1990, she returned to the United States, and the next year launched a new home shopping business, Silk Assets, which sold products on the cable channel QVC. Her first product sold $1.2 million in two hours.

Selling on QVC was a success. In 1997, Fürstenberg went into business with her daughter-in-law, Alexandra, re-launching her eponymous company. With the revival in the 1990s of 1970s fashions, Fürstenberg brought back the wrap dress in new prints and colors.

Fürstenberg published a memoir in 1998, "Diane: A Signature Life," recounting her life story and business successes. In 2001, she married businessman Barry Diller, who had been a friend since the 1970s. Fürstenberg also became involved in books and movies, producing "Forty Shades of Blue," which won a prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Fürstenberg released another memoir in 2014, "The Woman I Wanted to Be," which one reviewer described as "an honest an introspective look into the labyrinthine history behind one of the most iconic female entrepreneurs in fashion." Fürstenberg has also released a series of coffee table books, including "Beds," a look at the intimate spaces of the rich and famous.

By 2005, Diane von Fürstenberg boutiques were in operation in New York and Miami in the United States, and in London and Paris in Europe. Fürstenberg has served on a number of corporate boards. Her company is currently headquartered in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan.

Fürstenberg has been named one of the most powerful women in the world.

Notable Clients

Fürstenberg's clients include a range of celebrities, artists, and other luminaries. Michelle Obama—a woman known for her taste in fashion—wore a Fürstenberg wrap dress in 2009 for the White House Christmas card. Other major clients include Gwenyth Paltrow, Rooney Mara, Bella Thorne, Demi Moore, and Marisa Tomei.

Causes

Fürstenberg has supported numerous causes, among them the Anti-Defamation League and the Holocaust Museum. She has been honored for her work in redeveloping space in New York City and for her work against AIDS. With her husband, she funds a private family foundation, The Diller-Von Fürstenberg Family Foundation. In 2010, as part of an initiative by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, she pledged to donate half her fortune to philanthropic efforts.