When talking to Diane von Furstenberg over the phone, as incredibly cliche as it might sound, you can almost feel her warm personality radiating over the speaker. Calling from her home in Connecticut, where she has just woken up, she explains that she hasn’t seen the list of 50 questions that I’m about to ask her. “I prefer not to know what I’m going to be asked before an interview,” she says.
Such confidence, without arrogance or pretence, is one of the defining characteristics of the septuagenarian fashion designer – a trait that she attributes to her mother, a survivor of the Holocaust. And, from the life that Von Furstenberg has lived – which includes marrying a German prince, being painted by Andy Warhol, frequenting Studio 54 during its heyday, and becoming synonymous with one the most recognisable garments in fashion history, the wrap dress – it’s one that has been enjoyed to its fullest, thanks to her unwavering sense of self.
In 1976, she published her first book titled Diane von Furstenberg’s Book of Beauty: How to Become a More Attractive, Confident and Sensual Woman, a comprehensive guide to her tried and tested health, beauty, and lifestyle tips. Next month, her fourth book, Own It: The Secret to Life follows a similar format to her first: an alphabetical collection of DVF-isms that are certainly worth taking note of.
Below, she shares the story of when she first met Diana Vreeland, explains why procrastination is important, and imparts more of her wisdom in a quick fire interview.
How are you feeling today?
Today I am feeling ... Clear.
What were you doing right before this interview?
I was talking to my daughter who had her 50th birthday yesterday. She’s in LA and she was telling me about a film that everyone in her life made for her. And I was also doing a jigsaw puzzle on my iPad.
What are you wearing today?
Right now I’m still wearing what I sleep in.
What is your first memory of working in the fashion industry?
When I worked for a photographer’s agent in Paris. He was very successful and he represented everyone from David Bailey to ... well, everyone! My role was to answer the phone and tell everyone that he wasn’t there – to the people that he owed money to, and also the girls he had slept with!
How did you meet Andy Warhol?
I don’t quite remember. I met him when I first moved to New York. If you went out in New York it was impossible not to meet him. Of course, he became a friend.
“To be young in the 1970s was a great time to be young ... we thought we had invented freedom. It was a time between the discovery of the pill, and Aids. So it was a carefree time”
What is your favourite memory from a night at Studio 54?
Studio 54 was the best pick-up spot you’ve ever, ever been to. And the most wonderful thing about it was the entrance: because first of all, it was tough to get in. You had to look the right way. Once you got in, there was this big long corridor with big mirrors on either side and disco music ... So I would say that Studio 54 was very much about the entrance, and the people you met.
Is there anything you miss about the 1970s?
No, no. But I will say that to be young in the 1970s was a great time to be young. Because everything was inexpensive; New York was dangerous and cheap. So, as a result, there were lots of young talented people. It was not a bunch of rich people. Also, we thought we had invented freedom. It was a time between the discovery of the pill, and Aids. So it was a carefree time.
What is your favourite piece of music?
I like all blues music.
What is a book you could read over and over again?
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
What is your favourite film?
I have a few. But I would say All About Eve and A Clockwork Orange.
What are your three essential beauty items?
Recently I discovered the brand Natura Biessé and I love those products at the moment.
What does ‘beauty’ mean to you?
So beauty to me is embracing your imperfections so they become your assets.
What is your life motto?
Love is life; fear is not an option.
What motivates you?
That life is so short. I think very early in life I realised that the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. Once you have that, any relationship is a plus and not a must. I really think that at all costs we cannot be needy. To be needy is a no-no.
What keeps you grounded?
“I think very early in life I realised that the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. Once you have that, any relationship is a plus and not a must”
Where is your favourite place to visit in the world?
I’m very lucky because we have a boat, and the boat went around the world three times. Last year on New Year’s Day I went to Easter Island. And that was amazing.
Where is your favourite place to eat?
What are three of your favourite objects in your home?
You know what? At this point, because of the pandemic, my most important objects are my devices. So my iPhone, my iPad, my computer. It’s so fantastic. You have access to everything, everyone, you can study everything, read everything, and watch any movie.
What is your favourite art gallery or museum?
I love the National Gallery in Washington DC.
What – or who – makes you laugh the most?
I think what makes me laugh the most is when I can laugh at myself.
When was the last time you cried?
I am not a big crier. But last week my daughter showed me the first copy of her new book and I cried. It was very emotional.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
From my mother. My mother never told me to be careful, she was the one that taught me that fear is not an option.
Do you have any regrets?
You only regret the things you don’t do. And I have done just about everything I want.
How do you overcome challenges?
Owning them. There is no other way. The minute you own them, they’re still there, it’s not like you’ve solved them. But at least you are not hiding from them.
When did you feel like you’d ‘made it’?
Ohhh. You never really feel like you have. But I guess when I was 28 and I was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek ... I guess it was then I felt like, ‘Oh my God!’ But I always remember that it’s just not the successes of life. It’s the challenges that are the best lessons – and at the end, the best souvenirs.
“Then [Diana Vreeland] walks in with a giant cigarette, and pulls my chin up – and she says, ‘Chin up! chin up!’ And I thought, ‘Oh this is not going well at all.’ But it did! She really helped me”
What was meeting Diana Vreeland like?
Oh my God, it was the most intimidating thing ever. I mean it was so, so intimidating. At first, I walked into her office by myself, and it was this office with all these clothes, and jewels, and fabrics and candles. And there was a rack, and so I emptied my suitcase and I put the clothes on the rack. And there were two girls to try the clothes – one was LouLou de la Falaise and the other one Pat Cleveland. Then she walks in with a giant cigarette, and pulls my chin up – and she says, “Chin up! chin up!” And I thought, “Oh this is not going well at all.” But it did! She really helped me.
Do you collect anything?
I don’t like the idea of collecting. But I do. But more than anything I collect intimate moments, letters ... They are the most important things to me.
If someone could play you in a film, who would it be?
Well, it depends on what era. Maybe Marion Cotillard.
If you could say something to your 20-year-old self, what would it be?
Go for it.
Do you have a muse?
My muse is anyone who I can make feel confident. That’s what I have tried to do my whole life. But it’s not really me. All I do is put a mirror in front of them [and ask them to look at themselves]. To be able to do that is what I find so incredibly inspiring.
If you hadn’t become a fashion designer, what would you have done instead?
A director, maybe.
What’s the biggest risk that you’ve taken?
Every step is a risk. But it’s a word I never use.
If you could have dinner with anybody, living or dead, who would it be?
Leonardo Da Vinci.
How did you preoccupy yourself during lockdown?
I have been staying at my house in the countryside in Connecticut, and I bought this house for my 27th birthday with the first money I made. It’s been an incredible luxury. I’ve had this place for 47 years and there are many memories here. So I’ve shared it with many men, with the children, with the grandchildren. So it’s like staying inside my whole life.
Do you have a spiritual practice?
“It’s important to procrastinate. It’s like incubating”
What’s your favourite form of exercise?
I swim. I’m a big swimmer. When I go on the boat I swim for two hours a day in the deep sea, and I also hike.
Do you ever procrastinate?
Yes. Of course! It’s important to procrastinate. It’s like incubating.
Do you have any insecurities?
Yes – about certain decisions. But not insecurities about how I look.
How do you relax?
This is, strangely enough, another word I don’t use. But for me, the most important thing is solitude, silence, and nature.
Do you still wear wrap dresses?
Well, I never really wore them very much. But I still wear my own designs.
What’s the most special piece of jewellery that you own?
I have many pieces of special jewellery because I had two husbands that loved giving me jewellery. But maybe the most important pieces are the ones I bought for myself. The first time was in the 1970s when I got separated – I bought a ring as a commitment to myself.
What is your most prized fashion possession?
I have a whole archive so it’s difficult to choose!
Who is the last person you texted?
Oh! Wait a second let me have a look ... I just texted Priyanka Chopra.
What do you think of social media?
I think it’s fun. I think it’s an incredible tool. After Covid, more people appreciated nature, but also the virtual world. I love it, but I know from my granddaughter and everything, that a lot of young people are under pressure to try and be something that they are not. But overall I think it’s a wonderful way to stay connected.
What was the last thing you took a photograph of?
I write in a diary and I keep a visual diary. So the last picture I took was when I woke up this morning and took one of my bedroom. I posted it to Instagram with the caption “Good morning!”
Do you believe in fate?
Yes. I think it’s very important to be aware of the energy around you.
What star sign are you?
What is the best thing about being Diane Von Furstenberg?
I hope this doesn’t sound conceited, but when I go to sleep at night I am so happy I am me. And I think what I like most about being me is how much I can trust myself and how reliable I am to myself. It’s really about being my own best friend.
What will you do after this interview?
I think I have another interview at 11am. I’m going to get up, do my hair, and start the day. It’s a beautiful day here! I’m going to text you a picture of it when I hang up.
What is your secret to life?
Own It: The Secret to Life is released on March 8 2021, published by Phaidon.