On December 31, 1946, Diane von Fürstenberg was born in Brussels, Belgium. After introducing the world to her now-iconic wrap dress in 1972, she became one of the world’s most successful fashion designers. By creating a simple piece of clothing for the working woman, she revolutionized the fashion industry and how we dress today. Turning 71 today, she still rules the fashion industry with her eponymous global luxury lifestyle brand.
Born Diane Simone Michelle Halfin, she had a comfortable childhood thanks to the care of her wealthy Jewish parents, Leon and Liliane Nahmias Halfin. Eighteen months before von Fürstenberg was born, her mother had been a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp. As a holocaust survivor, her mother instilled a fearlessness in von Fürstenberg that would shape her into the successful entrepreneur that she is today. She shared, “[My mother] survived the camps at the age of 22. She taught me only to look at positive things no matter what happens. I was her victory.” After attending finishing schools in England, Spain and Switzerland, von Fürstenberg entered the University of Madrid in 1965.
When she transferred a year later to the University of Geneva, she met her future husband and heir to the Fiat car fortune, Prince Eduard Egon von Fürstenberg. She gained the title Princess Diane von Fürstenberg with her marriage to the Prince. The couple moved to New York City in 1969. Before moving to Manhattan, she had apprenticed with Italian textile manufacturer, Angelo Ferretti, and had started creating her soon-to-be legendary designs. “The minute I knew I was about to be Egon’s wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts,” she shared.
In 1970, von Fürstenberg displayed her first collection at New York City’s Gotham Hotel. Two years later, in April of 1972, she opened up her Seventh Avenue showroom with the help of her friend and a $300,000 loan from her father. She debuted her popular sweater dress, named “Angela” after Angela Davis, the black civil rights activist.
That same year she debuted her groundbreaking jersey wrap dress style to the world. She originally designed the dress after she saw Julie Nixon Eisenhower on TV wearing a DVF wrap with a skirt. Von Fürstenberg decided to combine the two pieces into one. Designed for the working women, it was an instant success. Her day-to-night style also came to define women’s liberation, as career women went wild for it. By 1976, she had already sold five million of her wrap dresses and she was on the cover of March 1976 Newsweek magazine under the cover line, “Rags & Riches.” Her dress was not just a new trend, it became a symbol of the gains of the women’s rights movement.
Although she achieved overwhelming success in her professional career, her marriage was on the rocks. Von Fürstenberg and her husband separated in 1973. However, the breakup allowed her to partake in New York City’s glam nightlife
By the late 1970s, she helped define the legendary New York City celebrity-studded disco scene. A regular fixture at Studio 54, she hobnobbed with everyone, from artists like Andy Warhol to supermodels like Bianca Jagger and Jerry Hall. In that time period, she was romantically linked to Richard Gere, Ryan O’Neal and Warren Beatty. In a recent appearance at the exclusive New York City women’s club, The Wing, she shared, “I had lots of lovers. I lived like a man in a woman’s body. There was no AIDS, there was Studio 54, I had lots of money… I had a great time!”
After divorcing Prince Egon in 1983, she faced financial difficulties, which understandably took a temporary toll on her confidence. Von Fürstenberg moved back to Europe and founded a French-language publishing house in 1985. Then, in 1992, she sold $1.2 million dollars worth of her brand, Silk Assets, within two hours on QVC. This gave her the courage to move back to the United States and relaunch her clothing brand in 1997. A new generation of professional women gravitated to the classic Diane von Fürstenberg wrap dress.
A testament to her timeless style, her four-decades-spanning brand is still as popular as ever. Sold in 55 countries around the world, DVF sells everything from ready-to-made clothing and accessories to handbags. Additionally, she recently starred in the E! reality TV show, “House of DVF,” where young women compete to be the next DVF Global Brand Ambassador. Awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by The Council of Fashion Designers of America, she has been their president since 2006. At 71 years old, she is still as outspoken as ever for women’s rights and her empowering fashions are still must-have staples in any stylish woman’s closet.