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Diane von Fürstenberg is one of the world’s most successful fashion designers. Once married to Austro-Italian Prince Egon von Furstenberg, she designed her iconic wrap dress for the working woman.
Diane von Fürstenberg was born Diane Simone Michelle Halfin on December 31, 1946, in Brussels, Belgium. One of the world’s most successful fashion designers, von Fürstenberg impressed the fashion world when she introduced her now-iconic “wrap dress” for the working woman in 1972. Once married to Austro-Italian Prince Egon von Fürstenberg, her designs have mostly appealed to middle-class women.
Diane von Fürstenberg was born Diane Simone Michelle Halfin on December 31, 1946, in Brussels, Belgium. Her well-to-do Jewish parents, Leon and Liliane Nahmias Halfin provided their daughter with a comfortable childhood. Her mother, a Nazi concentration camp survivor, imbued her with confidence and a sense of self-worth. Von Fürstenberg attended finishing schools in Switzerland, Spain, and England, and in 1965 entered the University of Madrid. In 1966, she transferred to the University of Geneva, where she met Prince Eduard Egon von Furstenberg, heir to the Fiat automobile fortune.
The Wrap Dress
The couple quickly fell in love and married. Now Princess von Fürstenberg, she apprenticed with Italian textile manufacturer Angelo Ferretti. The von Fürstenbergs moved to New York City in late 1969, where Diane attempted to interest garment manufacturers in her sample designs. Working during the early months of design out of the dining room of her Park Avenue, she found inspiration in the fashion lines of Bill Blass and Kenny Lane and by Diana Vreeland.
In April 1970 von Fürstenberg showed her first collection at the Gotham Hotel in New York City. Because she had little experience in producing clothes on a large scale, von Furstenberg at first worked with major women’s clothing manufacturers, but in April 1972 she established her own manufacturing business. With the help of friend and entrepreneur Richard Conrad, and with a $30,000 loan from her father, Diane von Fürstenberg opened a Seventh Avenue showroom. Although her designs were variations on items in her initial collection, she produced a new, very popular sweater dress named “Angela,” after the black activist Angela Davis. Next came von Fürstenberg’s enormously popular wrap dress.
By the mid 1970s, von Fürstenberg’s “wrap dress” had revolutionized American women’s apparel. It was versatile—working as both a comfortable business dress and an elegant evening gown. Furstenberg became a powerful fashion icon in the 70s by acknowledging the needs of a growing number of career-minded women. By 1976, she had sold 5 million wrap dresses, landed covers of Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, and created the fragrance Tatiana, named after her daughter.
Personal Life and Publishing
Despite such huge career success, von Fürstenberg’s personal life was crumbling. She and Prince Egon separated in 1975 and divorced in 1983. Fleeing bankruptcy, she moved to Europe and founded Salvy, a French-language publishing house. In the early 1990s, she moved into the home-shopping QVC world with her line Silk Assets. “It was tacky, but it gave me confidence.” Finding moderate success, she moved back to the United States in 1990 and settled on a farm in Connecticut.
For the next several years, von Fürstenberg published a series of books. First was a trio of coffee table books that exposed the interior lives of the rich and famous. Her 1991 book Beds displayed the bedrooms of celebrities and royalty. The Bath, released in 1993, offered a brief history of bathing and its many splendid rooms. The Table, released in 1996, highlighted the delights of entertaining and dining. In 1998, she exposed her own life in her autobiography DIANE: A Signature Life, a frank and compelling look at her marriage and her fashion career.
Years later, in the fall of 2014, the designer released another memoir, the empowerment-themed The Woman I Wanted to Be. At the same, the reality TV show House of DVF was launched on E!, following a group of young women competing to become von Fürstenberg’s brand ambassador.