Diane von Furstenburg: Fashion Designer Who Popularized the Wrap Dress

Fashion Designer (1946 - )

Diane von Furstenberg 2003
Diane von Furstenberg at a FilmAid International benefit at Diane von Furstenberg Studios, December 16, 2003. Evan Agostini / Getty Images

Diane von Furstenberg is a business executive and fashion designer responsible for the popularity of the wrap dress made out of knit jersey fabric, popular in the 1970s and returning to popularity in the 1990s.

Background

Born Diane Simone Michelle Halfin, Diane von Furstenberg was born in Brussels, Belgium, in December 31, 1946, to a father, Leon Halfin, who was a Moldavian emigre and a mother born in Greece, Liliane Nahmias, who had been liberated from Auschwitz only 18 months before Diane's birth.

  Both parents were Jewish.

Education

Diane was educated in England, Spain and Switzerland. She studied at the University of Madrid and transferred to the University of Geneva where her subject was economics.

Entering the Fashion World

After college, Diane 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 some silk jersey dresses.

New York and Independence

At the University of Geneva, Diane had met a German prince who had been born in Switzerland, Prince Egon zu Fürstenberg. They married in 1969, and moved to New York. There, they had a high profile society life. His family did not like that she 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, Diane sought financial independence by opening the Diane von Furstenberg Studio.

She designed her own prints, and made easy to wear dresses of silk, cotton and polyester knits.

The Wrap Dress

In 1972, she created the wrap dress that was to bring her so much recognition. The wrap dress first appeared the next year, manufactured in Italy. It was made of drip-dry cotton jersey; Diane von Furstenberg's intent was to create something both feminine-looking and easy to care for.

That iconic wrap dress is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Costume Institute Collection.

Divorce

That same year, DVF and her husband divorced. She lost the right to the title of Princess zu Fürstenberg and restyled herself as Diane von Furstenberg.

New Fields

In 1975, Diane von Furstenberg created the fragrance Tatiana, named for her daughter. The fragrance sold well. By 1976, she was so well known that she appeared on the cover of Newsweek -- displacing the image of Gerald Ford who had been originally scheduled for that cover. She was publicly associated with Warren Beatty, Richard Gere and Ryan O'Neal.

Von Furstenberg sold her studio and licensed her name to be used on other products. In 1979, products with the name Diane von Furstenberg represented sales of $150 million. By 1983, she closed her cosmetics and fragrance business.

The Comeback

From 1983 to 1990, Diane von Furstenberg lived in Bali and Paris. She founded a publishing company in Paris, Salvy. In 1990, she returned to the United States, and the next year launched a new home shopping business. Her new company, Silk Assets, sold products on the new television outlet, QVC. Her first product sold $1.2 million in two hours.

Selling on QVC, a company acquired by Barry Diller who was a friend and frequent companion of von Furstenberg since the 1970s, was a success. In 1997, von Furstenberg went into business with her daughter-in-law, Alexandra, re-launching her company. With the popularity in the 1990s of 1970s fashions, von Furstenberg brought back the wrap dress in silk jersey, new prints and new colors.

She published a memoir in 1998, recounting her life story and business successes. In 2001, she married Barry Diller, who had been a friend since the 1970s. She also became involved in books and movies, producing Forty Shades of Blue, which won a prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

By 2005, Diane von Furstenberg boutiques were in operation in New York and Miami in the United States, and in London and Paris in Europe.

Von Furstenberg served on a a number of corporate boards.

The headquarters of her company is in Manhattan in the Meatpacking District.

She has been named often as the, or one of the, most powerful women in the world.

Causes

Diane von Furstenberg also supported many 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 Furstenberg 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 Giving Pledge.

In 2011, she criticized First Lady Michelle Obama for wearing a dress by a British designer for a state dinner, and later apologized, stating that Mrs. Obama "has been super supportive to American designers."

Also known as: Diane Prinzessin zu Fürstenberg, Diane von Fürstenberg, Diane Halfin, Diane Simone Michelle Halfin

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Liliane Nahmias, who was among those liberated from Auschwitz just 18 months before Diane was born
  • Father: Leon Halfin, a Russian Jew born in Romania who moved to Belgium

Education:

  • University of Madrid
  • University of Geneva

Marriage, Children:

  1. Husband: Egon von Fürstenberg (married 1969, divorced 1972; German prince who later became a fashion designer, heir to Prince Tassilo zu Fürstenberg)
    • Alexandre, born 1970
    • Tatiana, born 1971
  2. Husband: Barry Diller (married 2001; business executive)
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    Your Citation
    Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Diane von Furstenburg: Fashion Designer Who Popularized the Wrap Dress." ThoughtCo, Oct. 31, 2017, thoughtco.com/diane-von-furstenberg-3528896. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, October 31). Diane von Furstenburg: Fashion Designer Who Popularized the Wrap Dress. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/diane-von-furstenberg-3528896 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Diane von Furstenburg: Fashion Designer Who Popularized the Wrap Dress." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/diane-von-furstenberg-3528896 (accessed December 14, 2017).