Just over a month ago, Diane von Furstenberg was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion D’Honneur in Paris by Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank, and subsequently toasted by tout le monde at a party on top of the Eiffel Tower. Today, she’s in isolation in her house in Connecticut and, like many of us, is reflecting on her career and the difficulties of running a business in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet this isn’t the first time that DVF, as she is fondly known, has faced difficulties. As much as she is a venerated grande dame of the New York fashion scene, von Furstenberg has seen precipitous highs (in 1976, she was selling 25,000 wrap dresses a week) and crashing lows (just a couple of years later, she was on the brink of bankruptcy). “I’m an old woman, darling,” she laughs, on the phone to Vogue. “By the same token – the more you know, the more you don’t know.”
So, who better than to dispense some advice on how to weather the Covid-19 storm than Diane? The designer is the first to admit that this is a challenging time to speak to customers and sell clothes in light of a global health crisis. Her “In Charge” initiative, which began last year as a summit for female leaders such Gloria Steinem and Ariana Huffington to brainstorm ways to promote female-led businesses, has since pivoted to become a foundation of her namesake brand. Using her label’s Instagram feed as a platform, it has now shifted its focus to “In Charge at Home”, with an emphasis on how to succeed in the workplace and collaborate with other women while in quarantine. Ten per cent of her sales are going towards the World Health Organisation and NoKidHungry, too.
Vogue caught up with her in isolation – and she offered five valuable lessons in staying positive during these unprecedented times.
Lesson 1: Just Own It
“This is a terrible situation for everybody, mostly because you won’t be able to pay people. You’re going to have to cut costs. That is the most difficult thing to do. Right now I’m writing a book and it’s called ‘Own It’. I say that the secret of life is owning it. If you own your imperfections, they become your asset. If you own your vulnerability, it becomes your strength. Last night, I thought ‘What the fuck!’ I’m writing a book about owning it and that’s what I have to do: I have to own it. This terrible thing that has happened is not my fault. Everyone has to think – whether they have a business, whether they’re old or young, a woman or a man, all humans have to somehow spend a little bit of time every day to really go deep. What am I supposed to learn from this? That’s what is important.”
Lesson 2: Being Alone Is Not Being Lonely
“I’m very lucky. I’m at my house in the country. I bought it from my very first money that I made from my dresses for my 27th birthday. I bought it to be my refuge. Deep down I always had this wish that I would not be forced to move and stay here. Forty-six years later, I’m living it. [But] I love to be alone. Being alone is not being lonely. Being alone strengthens you. I have never felt lonely. That’s part of being in charge and listening to yourself. The most important relationship in life is the one you have with yourself. Once you have that, every relationship is a plus – not a must.”
Lesson 3: For Young Designers, It’s Time To Question Your Business Model
“The people who are just starting out should think, ‘Thank God I’m not big yet’, because you can actually reset. This is the time for rebooting everything. What was right for your business yesterday may not be right any more. It’s an opportunity to look at it and ask yourself questions: Why am I a designer? Where do I really want to sell? Does my product make sense? It’s time to question all of this.”
Lesson 4: Accept The Lows As Well As The Highs
“I was 26 years old when I came up with the wrap dress and it was a huge hit. I was making 25,000 dresses a week. My factory was happy. My sales person was happy. I signed licenses. All of a sudden, I had saturated the market. Everyone had one, two, three, five… twenty wrap dresses. From one day to the next, I had all this inventory and I was almost bankrupt. That was tough. Today, I’m going through difficulties, too. It doesn’t change. The most important thing is to not be delusional, which is the hardest thing.”
Lesson 5: Hold On To Your Character
“Remember, the only thing you have control of is your character. You can lose your health, your wealth, your family, even your freedom — but you can never lose your character. That’s the relationship you have with yourself. You have to be true to yourself. It’s a little house inside of you that is the core of your strength.”
—BY OSMAN AHMED
Photo via VOGUE.