DVF Blurs the Line Between Art and Design
by Laurie brookins
If anyone could render an opinion about artists of the 20th century, surely it would be Diane von Furstenberg. She’s been photographed by Richard Avedon and painted by Andy Warhol—twice. However, the designer is quick to demur when asked if she was a muse to any one in particular. “They were all my friends; I loved them all,” she says matter-of-factly.
Von Furstenberg will discuss the melding of art and design so inherent to her label when she appears at DesignTalks, the panel-discussion component of Design Miami (December 5 at 6 pm, in conversation with Stefano Tonchi). With Dalí and Man Ray key to her Fall 2012 Rendezvous collection, there’s little doubt von Furstenberg counts contemporary art among her chief inspirations, and it’s clear she’s also quite simply a fan. “I love Damien Hirst. I love Jeff Koons,” she says. “I’m also interested in people like Kaws, people who started from graffiti. That kind of art is a little bit like what happened to music with rock.”
Travel and von Furstenberg’s insatiable wanderlust also inform her collections; her camera is always close at hand, thoughts of work always top of mind. “Nature photos become prints [in a collection], an architectural detail becomes a handbag, a vegetable market a color palette,” she says. Her Resort collection, which arrives in stores this month (locally at her boutique at Bal Harbour Shops), is a chic tribute to this particular passion: Von Furstenberg chose five US locales— Miami, New York, Las Vegas, Memphis, and California—to create a collection she dubbed Zoom. The frenetic nature of the word is intentional, as you should envision a lightning-paced, jet-setting girl who knows her wardrobe should reflect the ease demanded by such an on-the-go lifestyle.
True to the DNA of her brand, prints tell a major part of the story, such as the graphic black-and-white palms splashed across a minidress and matching jacket, accented with a tinge of Miami-friendly pink; the same shade was chosen for the effortless glam of a swingy sleeveless sheath, its neck and low back trimmed with a flurry of ruffles. Over the past few seasons, von Furstenberg also has been building her accessories business, reflected in standout pieces in this collection, such as the top-handled Eva tote (a follow-up to the Mimosa), which attracts the eye for its cunning use of color-blocking and how seamlessly it suits your life and wardrobe. “My idea about accessories is that they should be utilitarian, but also a little bit precious,” von Furstenberg says. “But just a little, because they need to work for your life.”
Von Furstenberg always has duality in mind, how a design will feel not only fresh but timeless, and how that design might also inspire confidence in generations of women. It’s a philosophy that has changed little since she arrived in New York 42 years ago with a plan to be a designer, her suitcase filled with a dozen jersey dresses. That chapter of her life is now the stuff of fashion legend: how, still married to Egon von Furstenberg and pregnant with her first child (Alexandre, now 42), she chose independence and empowerment over the life of being a German princess. And through pieces such as her most iconic wrap dress (which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2014), Diane von Furstenberg—both the woman and the brand—ultimately played a key role in the celebration of female equality, born at almost the same moment she stepped foot in Manhattan. “I really did live the American dream,” she says. “I came here, and one, two, three, I was all over the place, a huge success very quickly.”
Today, DVF is sold in more than 70 countries, with 54 boutiques bearing her name, while the line has most recently grown to include a home collection and a signature fragrance called Diane, both of which debuted in 2011. “The most amazing thing about my brand, and to some degree me—though it’s weird for me to say it myself—is the ability to stay relevant for so long,” she says. “I think a little bit of it is because I’m always interested in what’s happening around me. But I’m still the same woman I always was: I felt confidence about myself, and I sell confidence. I sell attitude, and that is completely timeless."
Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, works with von Furstenberg largely through her role as the organization’s president (a title she’s held since 2007) and believes her pragmatism to be a chief reason for her success. “American design is a combination of creativity and commerce; we’re not afraid to make money, and we’re not afraid to sell,” he says. “If you’re going to create something so beautiful and it lives in a closet somewhere, but nobody gets to wear it or see it, what have you created? Nothing. Diane understands that and celebrates creativity and commerce. There is an entrepreneurial spirit that exists in American fashion, and she really represents that.”
photography by martin schoeller (DVF); bill kearney (interior)