By Roxanne Fequiere
Diane von Furstenberg has seemingly done it all. At 74, the legendary fashion designer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist has launched and maintained a global enterprise, chaired the CFDA, married a prince, had two children, and created iconic silhouettes for women that have become synonymous with the idea of the "independent woman." Still, she insists that none of her accomplishments were planned. "When I was a young girl, I did not know what I wanted to do," she explained. "But I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be a woman in charge."
Joining Chief for an in-depth conversation about her rise to the top as well as the mistakes and setbacks she faced along the way, Diane chatted with Chief Member and DVF President Gabby Hirata about how they joined forces to hit reset on the business and develop a streamlined strategy for the future of the company.
In addition to solidifying her legacy, Diane is passionate about sharing what she's learned during her illustrious career to a new generation of women — and she did just that in real time, talking directly to Chief members about their aspirations, shortcomings, career concerns, and more. "For me, right now, it is a wonderful thing to use my voice, my knowledge, my experience, my connections, and my resources in order to help other women become the women they want to be," she said. More on the wisdom she shared, below.
On Making It Happen — and Sharing Your Story
Expanding on the idea of being a "woman in charge," Diane went on: "I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be free. I wanted basically to be equal to men and have a man's life in a woman's body." After being introduced to the American fashion scene, she became determined to create garments that would flatter and free women's bodies from constrictive clothing, but she had to figure out every step of the way on her own.
"I don't think I'm a good executive," Diane said. "But I think, like founders, I am a dreamer — maybe a little bit of a visionary — and I make my dreams happen. That's what I know how to do." She encouraged members to play to their strengths and not shy away from their career struggles, past and present. "Since this wonderful organization that you have here is about exchanging and using your experience to help others, it is very important to talk about your vulnerability, to talk about the obstacles, because every obstacle is a lesson."
On 2020 and the Future of DVF
Last fall, the DVF brand's business struggles became public as the pandemic raged on, forcing the company to lay off more than half its staff and close a number of its brick-and-mortar stores. She referred to the year's trials and tribulations as a "reality check." But when Gabby Hirata, then the APAC Business Head, emerged on the list of employees to be furloughed, Diana refused: "I said, no, no, no, I need, I need her."
Gabby had initially caught Diane's eye after organizing a fundraising campaign for those affected by the coronavirus in China. After being blown away by her vision for reinventing the DVF business model, Gabby was then tapped to become the company's President — a moment which inspired a severe case of impostor syndrome that led to a life-changing experience. "I said, 'Are you serious?'" Gabby recalled. "I'm not white. I'm not even from this country, I'm Chinese. I'm 31 years old. Are you sure you want me to lead your legacy company?" And Diane responded, "It's because you are all of that, this is why I want you to lead my company.”
On Owning It
Inspired to share even more of her wisdom with as many women as possible, Diane recently wrote a book titled Own It: The Secret to Life. Sharing some of its central tenets with members, she explained, "The most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. Once we have that, any other relationship is a plus and not a must." Speaking directly with members about everything from navigating change to identifying one's own professional weak spots, she recommended honesty and vulnerability, but confidence above all else. Quoting Balzac, she left members with a mantra well worth repeating: "When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubts."