A stunning 24-year-old woman sat reading the Wall Street Journal, the sole female on a morning commuter flight to Philadelphia.
“What does a cute girl like you read the Wall Street Journal for?” the young businessman to her right asked with a grin and a wink.
Though Diane von Furstenberg said nothing at the time, she’s told the story at every one of her speaking engagements in the 30 years since.
“It would have been too easy to tell him that I was in fact on the front page,” von Furstenberg purred with a soft Belgian inflection.
Von Furstenberg came to Yale Tuesday for the first time to tell her story. She spoke as part of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society’s “7th on Yale” series on entrepreneurship in fashion.
At the age of 55, she still wears her hair long, flowing in the same soft waves as it did when she burst onto the international fashion scene in the early 1970s. Von Furstenberg was eager to point out that she is a grandmother now, but a skirt of her own design and fur vest bedeck a body that could easily belong to a woman still in her 30s.
Von Furstenberg’s accomplishments include creating her own line of department store cosmetics and fragrances and opening a publishing house in France, and she is most famous for initiating the boldly-patterned knit “wrap dress” craze of the 1970s. She recently relaunched her initial line of patterns and dresses with a flagship store in New York City on 14th Street.
“When I brought my first little dress to Diana Vreeland at Vogue I had nothing. I had a suitcase,” von Furstenberg said. “At the beginning I didn’t even have an interest in fashion. I went to school and they told me I could only be a librarian. That’s when I decided to explore my passions, and fashion emerged.”
Von Furstenberg spoke with her hands, scooping up a bottle of water and gesturing with grace as she described the interaction between life and fashion.
“My mother was a Holocaust survivor, and that fact alone has led me to value both life and freedom,” von Furstenberg said. “Within my first four years in this country the fashion industry was allowing me to live the American Dream. I strongly believe that only through being serious can you afford to be occasionally frivolous. I’ve been serious about success since day one, and I still am.”
Rather than curbing her involvement her fashion empire, von Furstenberg said she has tried to maintain the strength of her brand in recent years.
“I’ve always designed for the woman I want to become,” von Furstenberg said. “I have become that woman, and while I realize it’s the younger generation that’s buying now, I want to ensure that my clothing has the appeal now it did years ago.”
Von Furstenberg said she has not minded aging.
“At one point I was the youngest of the 300 people working for me. Now, I am the oldest,” she said with a wistful smirk. “As it turns out I like it better this way.”
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