If there is anyone qualified to instruct on party etiquette, it is Diane von Furstenberg. The fashion doyenne whose experience extends far beyond the post-show celebration has partaken in everything from Venetian costume balls to Studio 54 extravaganzas – and her dedication to glamour is yet to wane. “The good thing about ageing is that you have a past, a history,” she writes in the opening to her autobiography, The Woman I Wanted To Be, and hers is awash with exceptional experiences. From life as a German princess to her current incarnation as President of the CFDA, she has encompassed myriad different roles, each of which has taught her how to live with radiant exuberance – and how to party like nobody else.
The daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, DVF regularly proclaims that it is her inherited duty to “make up for all the suffering [her mother] endured, to always celebrate freedom and live fully”, and that to combat the inhumanity wreaked upon her heritage is to live a life of joy and independence. “Don’t dwell on the dark things, but look for the light,” her mother would instruct her as a child – and this mantra has since permeated DVF’s own legacy, and extended her celebration of female resilience through the DVF Awards.
“When I was 20 years old, Egon von Furstenberg – who was my boyfriend at the time – took me to a costume ball in Venice hosted by the Countess Marina Cicogna,” she remembers. “It was during the film festival, so all the movie stars were there: Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve… I wore a little black velvet pageboy outfit and danced in a Venetian palace until dawn, then ate spaghetti and walked through the Piazza San Marco with my shoes in my hands. I didn’t grow up in that world like Egon did, so everything felt a little overwhelming and very, very glamorous. I loved it.”
Diane’s relationship with Egon (Prince Egon, a member of the storied German aristocracy and a man who DVF sometimes refers to as her Pygmalion) was marked by its sheer decadence – trips to the South of France, the Monaco Grand Prix, the Italian Alps – and set the stage for a life of opulent affairs. “Back in the Seventies, we would hold parties in our Park Avenue apartment for people like Yves Saint Laurent and Bernardo Bertolucci,” she recalls. “All the Europeans would come; journalists, designers, Andy Warhol and his entourage of the moment.” But, determined to avoid the title of Park Avenue Princess, the von Furstenbergs eventually parted ways – and DVF started hosting solo.
“I’ve always liked to host in my own space,” she explains. “When I moved to the West Village in the late Nineties, I gave great parties in my studio. Lounge seating is always better than a placed dinner; that way, people can move around the room throughout the night, and hopefully meet someone unexpected. I like a buffet, which works with that kind of seating and feels relaxed – plus, I love the sort of foods that are best served like that: a big spread of Indian curries, or a chicken couscous with lots of salads. Then, you need good wine, good vodka, lots of water and juices... and, of course, tequila.”
To imagine the sorts of characters attending one of Diane’s Indian buffets or enjoying her chicken couscous, one must flick through a mental Rolodex of cultural icons: Madonna, Diana Vreeland, Gia, Richard Gere (with whom she had a passionate affair in the Seventies)… So, where to begin with one’s cosmetic preparations when anticipating beauties of such renown descending upon your home? “Counting too much on your appearance limits one’s growth. Looks are fleeting and cannot be your only asset,” she writes in her book. But “getting ready is a ritual for me, from hanging what I’ll wear to taking a bath to putting on my make-up” she says. “It’s a very calming moment in the day, and you can take that time to catch up on phone calls.”
Presumably, choosing what outfit to wear is simple: surely a wrap dress is the uniform of a successful hostess? It is the piece that made Diane’s career, the one that can be “worn to meet the mother-in-law while still keeping the boyfriend satisfied”, a garment she once famously said was particularly brilliant for its lack of a zip, because you could slip it on quietly in the morning and make a swift exit without disturbing a sleeping man (indeed, the ideal post-partywear). However, she instructs that, “dress codes are more of a suggestion now. There are so many choices in fashion and people take pride in their style, so the rules are gone and it’s fine – in the end, people should dress how they are comfortable… although I still love a little sparkle on a cocktail dress.”
Then, after outfits are hung, when there’s plenty of tequila to hand and the banquet is prepared, Diane leaves us with one simple aphorism: “A great host behaves as a guest, and a great guest acts like a host.” She continues, “I think the biggest mistake is when people never stop planning; once your guests arrive, you have to let everything go. Relax, enjoy and everyone else will follow.” Truly, words to live by.
This article appears in the S/S16 edition of AnOther Magazine.