Diane von Fürstenberg, formerly Princess Diane of Fürstenberg is a Belgian fashion designer best known for her wrap dress.
DVF has spent more than four decades on the front lines of fashion. Now she’s bringing her granddaughter, Talita, into the family business.
She has been a princess, a populist, a feminist. A fashion designer, an author, a wife, a mother. And an icon. But right now Diane von Furstenberg has a toothache. “I had some dental work,” she says, seated on a sofa at her New York City headquarters beneath an eight-foot-long portrait of her by Francesco Clemente. “I can’t believe I had my picture taken. My mouth feels so swollen.”
Of course, she’s astonishingly beautiful; in 1972 this magazine wrote, when she appeared on the cover with her then-husband, that she glowed “with the sultriness of a Biblical temptress.” Assistants from the photo shoot bustle in and out, and her 19-year-old granddaughter, Talita (properly styled she’s Talita Natasha Prinzess in zu Fürstenberg), pops her head in to say goodbye; she’s catching the train back to Washington, DC, where she’s a sophomore at Georgetown University.
Still, a little dental work won’t deter DVF, as she’s universally known, from talking about her next act. “I’ve been a designer, a success, a failure. I’ve seen it all. And now I want to use my power, my experiences, my knowledge, and my connections to help women all over the world become who they want to be,” she says, stretching like a cat. “I want to be an oracle.”
On the eve of her 72nd birthday, DVF still embodies feminine power and sensual beauty, her cheekbones’ dramatic angles framing her face and her deep brown eyes. She has passed through so many stages she often remarks that she has lived enough lives for someone who is 140. And she is ready to move on, change the dynamic of her company, and, yes, be oracular, be the high priestess of the temple of Apollo at the sanctuary of Delphi, but for a modern world.
With a new design team slated to start this year, she will be able to do those things—and Talita will be helping. “I look at it this way,” Talita says. “Your mom wore DVF, and maybe your grandmother wore DVF, but now I can bring something a little more fresh and youthful.”
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG AND HER GRANDDAUGHTER TALITA AT DVF’S NEW YORK HEADQUARTERS, BENEATH A PORTRAIT OF THE DESIGNER BY FRANCESCO CLEMENTE. ON DIANE, DVF DRESS ($598); CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN PUMPS ($1,095). ON TALITA, DVF DRESS ($528), CAMISOLE ($248); TIFFANY & CO. NECKLACE ($5,200), RING ($3,850); MESSIKA PARIS EARRINGS ($1,850), RINGS (FROM $990); CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN SANDALS ($1,395).
But she certainly won’t alter the essence of the brand, with its ethos of authenticity and confidence, when she launches her first capsule line this spring, called TVF for DVF—a collection of clothing with slightly lower price points than DVF and geared toward the millennial set. The pair are a natural fit to collaborate, says Alexander von Furstenberg, Talita’s dad. “My daughter,” he says, “is an exact copy of my mother. They’re the same person.”
Diane Halfin was born on New Year’s Eve 1946 in Brussels, just 18 months after her mother Lily Nahmias was liberated from Auschwitz, weighing just 49 pounds. Nahmias taught her daughter to be fearless. “If I was afraid of the dark, she would lock me in a dark closet and wait outside so I would learn there was nothing to be afraid of,” Diane says.
DESIGNER DIANE VON FURSTENBERG IN 1982.
With her first marriage, in 1969 to Prince Egon von Fürstenberg, a German nobleman, Diane became a princess. Five years later she became a kind of fashion populist, introducing the relatively affordable wrap dress, a slinky jersey garment that could go to the office tied high and tight and later be loosened to better float through a nightclub. The very structure of the wrap dress simultaneously offered businesslike assertiveness to the wearer and, to the observer, the sly promise that it could be removed with one swift tug.
At the same time, her marriage to the openly bisexual and serially unfaithful prince was ending. She had two children under the age of four, Princess Tatiana and Prince Alexander, but she asked for no alimony, keeping only the surname. She was selling 25,000 dresses a week and was on the cover of Newsweek in 1976. Once, on an airplane, she was reading the Wall Street Journal—it had a pointillist portrait of her on the front page—when the man next to her asked, “What’s a pretty little girl like you doing reading the Wall Street Journal ?” She ignored him.
She called the wrap dress the robe-portefeuille (wallet dress in French), and it flew out of stores, first in the 1970s and then again when she revived the design in the 1990s.
DVF has four grandchildren, and though she is close to all of them, she and Talita became especially close when Talita’s parents separated in 2002, when she was just three years old. When Talita was nine, DVF took her to a weeklong fashion show in Florence, where the young woman seemed completely at home. “She really worked,” Diane says. “She helped cast the models; she helped with styling.”
“I CALL HER DVF. SHE CALLS ME TVF. IT’S A FAMILY THING,” SAYS TALITA VON FURSTENBERG, WEARING MICHAEL KORS COLLECTION DRESS ($3,695); TIFFANY & CO. BRACELET ($3,300), RING ($3,850); MESSIKA PARIS RING ($6,440).
These days Talita commutes to New York to spend time with her grandmother (whom she calls DVF, never “Grandma”) at least a few times a month. “We all call each other by our initials in our family,” Talita tells me. “I call her DVF. She calls me TVF. We call my stepmother [designer Ali Kay] AK. It’s a family thing.”
This identification tactic comes in handy considering how much time the family—including a tangle of step-parents, half-siblings, and extended relations—spends together. This last December DVF and her media mogul husband, Barry Diller, took a group on a trip to Namibia and South Africa to celebrate the holidays and Diane’s birthday: Talita; her boyfriend Rocco Brignone; Talita’s brother Tassilo; and Prince Achileas of Greece, Talita and Tassilo’s first cousin. Alex von Furstenberg joined the group with his wife and their young son, Leon.
At this stage of her life Diane wants to spread her message to women through a variety of outlets—podcasts, a YouTube channel, more books—and to focus on philanthropy. The Diller–von Furstenberg Family Foundation, which she set up in 1999, helped kick-start New York City’s High Line, a disused railway on the West Side of Manhattan that is now an elevated park bursting with greenery.
She recently helped raise nearly $100 million for a new museum on New York’s Liberty Island, and she’s on the board of such causes as Vital Voices, a women’s leadership organization, and the Shed, the soon-to-open performing arts venue at Manhattan’s Hudson Yards. She also funds the DVF Awards, which support female entrepreneurs and leaders from around the world. Last year’s honorees included U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland.
Alyse Nelson, the president and CEO of Vital Voices—which will honor DVF with its highest award in April at a ceremony at the Kennedy Center—credits her with giving the group its slogan: “Invest in women, improve the world.”
“She once told me something that really sticks with me: The first two things she does every morning have to be for someone else,” Nelson says. “She has these bright, big, beautiful wings, and she pulls women underneath them and catapults them forward.”
Gloria Steinem, a close friend of Diane’s, agrees. “She has a great heart and the courage and honesty to call out pretentiousness,” Steinem says. “I remember seeing her at a discussion held by one of the rich tech guys who was building his own spaceship to escape this earth, which he called doomed. Everyone in the room was quiet and seemingly impressed. Only Diane stood up, and she asked, ‘Do you give a damn about anyone but yourself?’”
(R-L) TALITA AND DIANE VON FURSTENBERG WITH CROWN PRINCESS OF GREECE, MARIE-CHANTAL, AND MARIA-OLYMPIA OF GREECE AND DENMARK AT THE CLARIDGE’S ZODIAC PARTY IN LONlDON.
As much as she has to say, however, Diane’s goal is for all women to feel as empowered as she has felt. “What I most enjoy is giving women a message of confidence as they move forward,” she says. “I love speaking. Three weeks ago I was in San Francisco, and I spoke in front of executives at YouTube, then I went to 23andMe, then I spoke at Stanford. Every time I speak I learn something, because I never write down a speech, only bullet points, so I can hear the audience and play with them. And it is always enriching.”
One cornerstone of her message is that older women can offer as much wisdom as their male counterparts. Diane wants them to feel not only valuable but revered. “Of course, the physical aspect of aging is challenging,” she says. “Today I was out of it. I was tired, my mouth was swollen, and I broke my back a few months ago.” Wait. Broke your back? She gives a dismissive wave of the hand, as if to say, “A broken back? I can deal with that.” She says, “I think of aging as an acquisition, not a loss.”
Nevertheless, it seems natural that at some point Diane will pass the reins of her empire to Talita. The young woman has not only the drive but the social connections: On her father’s side she is a German royal and a member of the Agnelli family, and her mother’s father is billionaire businessman Robert Miller, who reportedly gave a dowry of $200 million to each of his three daughters. On her mother’s side Talita is the niece of Pia Getty and Marie-Chantal, Crown Princess of Greece and Princess of Denmark.
TALITA VON FURSTENBERG WEARING CHANEL DRESS (PRICE UPON REQUEST); MESSIKA PARIS HOOP EARRINGS ($2,960); YEPREM RING ($1,900).
She’s also smart and—despite all the trappings of glamour and wealth—down to earth. She interned for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and started her freshman year at Georgetown with the intention of studying international relations, but she has since changed her focus to subjects like social development and injustice in the prison system. Enrolling at Georgetown instead of fashion school seemed like the right idea.
“I was born to do fashion,” she says. “But I thought I’d like to have a diverse education before going into the industry.” She has a booming social media following—more than 167,000 followers on Instagram—but she keeps a low profile on campus. “I only wear sweatpants. I don’t think my friends have seen me in anything even as structured as blue jeans,” she says, noting that when it comes to fashion she admires designs by Isabel Marant and emerging brands like HVN and Laure Hériard Dubreuil. “If you see me at school, it’s very different from how I am when I’m in New York. It’s as if I lead a double life.”
It’s a life that will allow her to lend her grandmother a fresh perspective that could be a welcome addition. After all, the company has been somewhat in flux in recent years, cycling through a series of design directors and CEOs. But since April, DVF has been working with the new CEO, Sandra Campos, to put together a new design team that will debut in the spring.
DIANE AND GRANDDAUGHTER, TALITA VON FURSTENBERG.
“We will never depart from DVF’s original creative message,” Campos tells me. “It doesn’t matter who’s sitting in the designer’s seat or the CEO’s seat, this brand will always be about confidence and femininity. We will do what we need to do to take this strategy and make it last.”
On a gray afternoon in December, Diane descends the massive concrete staircase that cuts through her Meatpacking District building; curtains of steel cables studded with Swarovski crystals refract light throughout the space. There are a few shoppers downstairs: a chic French couple, a young mother with a Southern accent and a toddler in tow, a woman looking for a dress to wear to her son’s wedding.
Diane takes time to talk with them about what they’re shopping for, what looks good on them, what makes them feel good. It’s hard to imagine any other designer hanging out with her customers like this, taking on the role of adviser or mentor, or even shopping buddy.
So what is DVF, the brand, now, I ask. “It’s the friend in the closet,” Diane says. “You’re a woman. You know you have to go to work and you have to go out, and who knows if you’ll make it home before morning. So what do you wear?” She moves on without waiting for an answer. The oracle has spoken.
Photographs by Tomas Whiteside, Styled by Nicoletta Santoro
Hair by Michael Silva for Leonor Greyl at the Wall Group (Diane); Brian Buenaventura at the Wall Group (Talita). Makeup by Georgi Sandev for Estée Lauder at Forward Artists (Diane); Chris Colbeck for Chanel Beauty at Art Department (Talita). Manicures by Gina Viviano at TraceyMattingly.com. Set design by Cooper Vasquez for Cooper Vasquez Studio. Flowers by Designs by Ahn.
This story appears in the March 2019 issue ofTown & Country.
Town & Country magazine