How Diane Von Furstenberg Changed The World Of Fashion

Diane von Furstenberg first gave us the wrap dress. And then she gave us everything else. The Belgium-born designer changed the world of fashion by urging women to be comfortable before they tried to be anything else. From comfort came fashion, as she saw it. Because she dresses women so well, she's also become a staunch advocate of women — and an outspoken one at that!

When speaking with the Independent, the designer defended both female sexuality and female strength, saying, "Our strength has nothing to do with the fact that we can't look good or have good legs, strength is something entirely independent. She continued, "Sometimes, when people hear the word 'feminist', they think that means looking down on the idea of being feminine, but you can be feminine and feminist. But I do believe in the strength of women and I do believe that women can save the world."

She certainly puts her money where her mouth is. The designer has advocated for women all throughout her long career. She's even weighed in on the royal feud. After Netflix's "Harry & Meghan" premiered, von Furstenberg attempted to sow peace by recalling a moment when Catherine, Princess of Wales, and Meghan Markle wore the same DVF dress. "Once upon a time two beautiful women married two kind and handsome Princes. ... Wishing them all Peace and Love for the new year!" she wrote on Instagram. Yes, she's all about peace, love, and fashion.

As an intern, she created a wrap top that eventually became a dress

For Diane von Furstenberg (née Halfin), creating the wrap dress meant so much more than simply designing clothing. It meant independence and a life of her own. She grew up in Belgium and moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where she met Prince Egon von Furstenberg. At 22, von Furstenberg married said prince, and the pair moved to the United States.

Despite the fact that von Furstenberg was about to enter into an illustrious marriage and was pregnant with the prince's child, she knew she wanted to have forge her own career path. "The minute I knew I was about to become Egon's wife, I decided to have a career," she told The New York Times. "I had to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her deserts."

Von Furstenberg told HuffPost exactly how this career came to be. "I wanted very much to be independent and to work," she explained of her thinking at the time of her engagement and pregnancy. She had been interning in Italy and her employer owned several factories. "I asked the man I was working for in Italy if I could make a few samples shirt dresses and a ballerina wrap top that I would try to sell in America," she explained. "And then I turned the wrap top into a dress." And this is how the wrap dress came into being.

Her mother impacted her fashion journey

Diane von Furstenberg's mother, Lily Nahmias, was a major influence on her, particularly for inspiring her with the confidence and fortitude to survive in the fickle fashion world. Von Furstenberg told the Independent that Nahmias, who was of Greek and Jewish descent, was captured by Nazis in Brussels. Following this, she spent a total of 14 months in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Von Furstenberg said her mother was exceptional and explained how she passed on a vibrant set of philosophies to her daughter after living through such harrowing events. "She survived the camps at the age of 22, she taught me only to look at positive things no matter what happens," von Furstenberg explained. "When she talked about the camps she talked about the camaraderie. I think she was trying to protect me. She only weighed 49lb when she came out, but I was born 18 months later. I was her victory."

While Nahmias was everything to her daughter, von Furstenberg explained that the core of her style came from within herself. "I never modeled myself after anyone," von Furstenberg told HuffPost. "The person who had [the] most influence on me was my mother, but it was really for her strength and courage more than her style, even though she had a lot of style. In a weird way, looking at pictures of me when I was 17 or 18, I was dressing the same way. I haven't changed very much."

Diane von Furstenberg's style ethos has always been simplicity

While wrap dresses are a staple for many now, there was a time when the wrap dress, at least as we know it in American fashion, was a foreign concept. In speaking of her wonderful innovation, von Furstenberg explained why the wrap dress stuck around so long. "It's more than just a dress; it's a spirit," von Furstenberg told the Independent. "The wrap dress was an interesting cultural phenomenon, and one that has lasted 30 years. What is so special about it is that it's actually a very traditional form of clothing." As it features no zippers, buttons, or other clasps, she compared the design to kimonos and togas. "What made my wrap dresses different is that they were made out of jersey and they sculpted the body," she said.

Simplicity was the key to its success. The essence of the wrap dress is also the basis of von Furstenberg's fashion ideology. Trends don't necessarily work for everybody. What's the key element? Comfort, von Furstenberg told HuffPost. "Don't wear something just to look younger. It won't work. But wear something that you can put on and forget about. If you're constantly tugging at your skirt or shirt, you can't possibly be comfortable, and you won't have the freedom to focus on what you should be engaged in." Dress fabulously and forget about it!

Through her fashion, she helped women feel 'free and sexy'

To Diane von Furstenberg, the wrap dress meant so much more than a garment. "I've always been inspired by women, and my mission was to inspire women," she told HuffPost. "I always wanted to become a certain kind of woman and I became that woman through fashion. It was a dialogue. I would see that the wrap dress made those women confident, and made them act with confidence."

This confidence meant success in whatever a woman wanted to set her mind to, but our gal wasn't shy to also touch on sexual confidence. She famously touted the wrap dress when speaking to the Telegraph, saying, "If you're trying to slip out without waking a sleeping man, zips are a nightmare." Sexual freedom was timely, since she launched the dress in 1974. "The wrap dress made women feel what they wanted to feel like... free and sexy," she told Vogue. "It also fitted in with the sexual revolution: a woman who chose to could be out of it in less than a minute!"

Diane von Furstenberg's designs had a transformative impact on wearers

Diane von Furstenberg's earliest design became something of a chameleon — it helped transform the wearer into whatever she needed to be. "It started as a wrap top and skirt, and I thought it would make a simple and sexy dress," the designer said (via Refinery29). "I had no idea it would be such a phenomenon. It was so effortless, and it allowed women to go to work and still feel like women." She continued, saying, "I could always see the way it changed a woman once she put it on. ... It was a very empowering thing for me, and for them."

While von Furstenberg's wrap dress and later designs have certainly empowered other women, she told the Telegraph in 2011, "I never like to think that I design for a particular person. I design for the woman I wanted to be, the woman I used to be, and — to some degree — the woman I'm still a little piece of. Well, it clearly worked because the dress took on a life of its own, transforming not only her brand but fashion everywhere. "That dress has had this amazing life, one I don't seem to have had any control over," she said.

She is a role model for her belief that 'beauty is its imperfection'

Diane von Furstenberg isn't a fan of anything too perfect, and since she's the face of her eponymous fashion line, the same goes for her personal look. She's not a fan of cosmetic procedures. "I'm sure that a lot of women look at me and say 'Why doesn't she do anything to her face?' and I can understand that," she told HuffPost. "But every time that I have contemplated it, I just feel like I would erase part of who I am and who I have been."

Von Furstenberg explained the few things she does do in this regard. "So I do facials, but that's it. So that, in a sense, is something signature about me, because very few women do not use Botox. And it's not that I don't think that they should, I have nothing against it. It's just somehow, for me, I feel I would betray myself." She told the Independent that she's under no pressure to look younger by partaking in surgery or Botox, but she was also careful to add that she doesn't judge anyone else who wants to do this.

This personal philosophy also impacts von Furstenberg's design elements and her sway on the fashion industry. How? She's all about embracing imperfections. She told the Telegraph that the obsession with perfection is "ridiculous and dangerous." Von Furstenberg added, "The whole point about beauty is its imperfection."

She led the charge in diversifying fashion shows

Diane von Furstenberg has been critical of the pitfalls of the fashion world, namely its lack of inclusivity. In speaking of the benefits of voluntarily making changes, she told the Independent back in 2008 that people need to see diversity in models. "I think all races are represented in America much more than in many other places, but it's also nice to remind people about that ethnic mix," von Furstenberg said. "I would like to see more black models and women from different ethnic backgrounds." Compared to other designers at the time, von Furstenberg included more diverse models in her fashion shows, according to the Independent.

Von Furstenberg also gets fired up about size inclusivity. "The fashion industry has a responsibility to represent a healthy image of women, but to start weighing them and putting them against a wall and making them feel like animals? No," she added. In 2019, the designer put her money where her mouth is in a collaboration with the inclusive e-commerce site 11 Honoré, in which von Furstenberg created wrap dresses in sizes 14 to 24. As Harper's Bazaar reported, her brand was the most requested by their clientele.

She brought high fashion to tennis

When Diane von Furstenberg collaborated with Reebok for a limited athletic line, the designer used Venus Williams as her inspiration and collaboration partner. As The New York Times noted, von Furstenberg was influenced by the tennis superstar and, in turn, Williams rocked DVF's line at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 2003. When Williams walked out at Wimbledon in von Furstenberg's white, corseted tennis dress, the designer got emotional. ”She looked so beautiful, I cried,” von Furstenberg told the Times.

It's no mistake that von Furstenberg was so successful when she worked with Williams. Both Venus and her sister Serena Williams have been major forces of fashion in the athletic world. When asked if fashion was overplayed in tennis, Venus told Women's Wear Daily, "I don't think there could be enough focus on fashion. Fashion is part of tennis, especially when you're winning tournaments. With Serena and me, it doesn't overshadow us. Our tennis says who we are."

So what did Venus think of her work with von Furstenberg? It was obviously a win. Venus said that the line resembled her as a player because it was "strong, fast, dynamic, and different." Von Furstenberg obviously knew who she was designing for, but Venus also took part in the process. She discussed her 2003 Wimbledon look with Vogue, saying, "What I really wanted was for it to be very fashion-forward and very eye-catching. I can't take all the credit, but I'll take half the credit."

Diane von Furstenberg has dressed everyone from British princesses to the Queen of Pop

Diane von Furstenberg knows that she's had an impact on the world of fashion and has been around long enough to see how celebrities wear her looks to create different conversations. "When someone like Madonna wants to try to show her brain, rather than the rest, at a conference in Israel or a book launch," von Fursternberg told the Telegraph, "it's interesting that she chooses to wear one of my dresses."

Catherine, Princess of Wales, is another notable woman who's often sported von Furstenberg's designs. The designer even responded to criticism of Catherine dressing onservatively. "She's going to be Queen of England, but she's not from an aristocratic background, so she needs to play the game," von Furstenberg said of the princess. "Still, I like the fact that she seems to be very independent."

Undoubtedly, von Furstenberg herself is fiercely independent; however, she has been influenced and inspired by several A-list women. When asked about her style icons, von Furstenberg told HuffPost, "Marlene Dietrich, Sarah Bernhardt, Jackie Kennedy, Mother Theresa, Angelina Jolie. These are all people whose style I like, and I also admire who they were or are." That's right, even the greats aren't without celebrity inspo. When speaking to the Independent, the designer revealed, "Women inspire me."

She never went out of style

Diane von Furstenberg's brand has gone on a remarkable journey of its own. It kicked off in 1970 and by 1974, she unveiled her wrap dress to astounding success (via Business of Fashion). However, the company began floundering in the '80s, so she sold her company to Puritan Fashions Corporation and left for Paris. When speaking to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, at a View From The Top event, von Furstenberg said that when she was in Paris, she felt as though she'd lost everything. But in hindsight, the designer knew that the ebb and flow of business was normal. "When you create something, it goes up and it goes down," she explained. "You can lose everything, but you never lose your character."

When von Furstenberg noticed that her dresses were selling in vintage stores and having a renaissance with younger shoppers, she decided to jump back in the game. As Business of Fashion noted, she bought back the license and came back with a vengeance. The designer spoke about her comeback with the Independent, revealing that her iconic wrap dress began selling once again at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1997. "People say, 'Oh, the wrap dress is over, it's this, it's that', but then, all of a sudden, Demi Moore and Madonna are hosting the hot Oscar party and what are they wearing? A DVF gold wrap dress!" the designer said. "It is actually more fun the second time around."

The Met paid homage to her wrap dress

You know you're a legend when the Metropolitan Museum of Art pays homage to you. Diane von Furstenberg's wrap dress was prominently featured in the 2021-2022 exhibit "In America: A Lexicon of Fashion." The exhibit explored prominent garments and designers who've shaped the world of American fashion. "It establishes a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on its expressive qualities," the Met explained. Who's designs better fit that description than von Furstenberg's?

Von Furstenberg is no stranger to the Met, though. In 2019, for example, she attended the Met Gala with a nice nod to herself and her influence on the world of fashion. The theme was "Fashion: Notes on Camp" and von Furstenberg dressed as the Statue of Liberty. As the designer told Coveteur, "It's one of my favorite landmarks and very near and dear to my heart as an immigrant in this country. I had to go all the way and complete the look with a crown and torch, and my dress features myself on my first 'Interview' magazine cover in 1977. It's perfect for the night's theme!"