Diane von Furstenberg addressed a well-heeled and predominantly female crowd in Gaston Hall on Monday night, telling the audience of her life as a fashion designer, all in the hope of inspiring her audience to act with confidence and clarity.
Dean Carol Lancaster of the School of Foreign Service introduced von Furstenberg, characterizing the designer as unusual in that she has been very successful in three different fields: fashion, business and philanthropy. Von Furstenberg also spoke about Vital Voices, a nongovernmental organization on whose board she sits.
Vital Voices’s mission statement reads, “We identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.”
Clad in a black cowl neck turtleneck and brown, white and black print pants, von Furstenberg said her goal has always been empowerment. “My mission really was to empower women,” she said. “And I do [it] through my fashion, by making nice, pretty clothes that will make [the wearer] feel confident and empower them.” She added that she also empowers women by mentoring them and through her philanthropic work.
“I learned very early on that the most important relationship is the relationship you have with yourself,” von Furstenberg told the audience.
Von Furstenberg was born in Belgium and claims her confidence was inspired by her mother, an Auschwitz survivor who weighed only 49 pounds when the war ended, but went on to regain her health and give birth to Diane.
It was her upbringing, von Furstenberg said, that taught her how strong women are. “I have never met a woman who is not strong, ” she said. “Sometimes they are afraid to show it. . Sometimes they don’t even know that they are strong. And then comes a tragedy and the strength always comes out.”
“I never really liked fairy tales,” von Furstenberg joked of her early marriage to and ensuing separation from Prince Egon von Furstenberg. “The girl marries the prince and that’s the end of it. In my fairy tale, that’s the beginning of it.”
She spoke of entering the fashion industry and creating the iconic wrap dress, for which the brand is still known today.
“There was a little wrap top that came with a skirt [in the collection],” she said. “I thought maybe I should turn that top into a dress, and that became the wrap dress.”
She added, “The wrap dress became immediately, immediately just something incredible, and everyone wore it.”
The true testament to the enduring nature of the wrap dress is its versatility.
“Madonna is a perfect example. You would say she is someone who wears very outrageous clothes,” von Furstenberg said. “But when she goes and wants to be serious, when she launched a children’s book or met the president of Argentina, then she wears a wrap dress.”
Conversely, first lady Michelle Obama wore a wrap dress on the cover of the White House holiday card last year. The same print, in fact, that von Furstenberg had modeled herself in the line’s first advertisement.
Those in attendance were impressed by von Furstenberg’s story.
“[Von Furstenberg] was quite a diva, but she seemed genuinely interested in telling her story and the idea of women’s empowerment. She spoke very personally and told us real stories rather than generic fluff,” Libby Hambleton (COL ’13) said.
The event was sponsored by the SFS, the Georgetown Women’s Leadership Initiative, The Center for Public & NonProfit Leadership, Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, The Mortara Center for International Studies and Georgetown Women in International Affairs.