The Empress Has New Clothes: How Diane von Furstenberg Conquered the World (Well, Just About)

11/14/2009 04:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Rising like a phoenix, she is a modern myth, the queen of the desert, a true adventurer, exploring and enticing." The first line of the program notes of Diane von Furstenberg's Spring 2010 collection, Oasis, describes the woman who will inhabit these clothes. The collection debuted yesterday afternoon in the tent at Bryant Park, where von Furstenberg is the Bedouin queen of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, ruling her tent camp in an economic desert.

Von Furstenberg is the President of the Council of Fashion Designers in America and has jumped to crisis management director for a faltering fashion industry. Taking on the role of New York fashion's mother hen, von Furstenberg was pivotal in the planning of this year's fashion week. At the CFDA meeting held in New York in July, she announced, "In the middle of a tsunami, we can't change everything. But I would like to make New York Fashion Week the most dynamic in the world." And why not? In New York City fashion is the largest industry after finance, with over 800 fashion companies and 175,000 employees generating $10 billion in total wages. Why shouldn't New York's Fashion Week be the most dynamic in the world? And with the way things are going, New York City designers and retailers could use all the help they can get. As IMG senior vice president and fashion week organizer, Fern Mallis, said, "It's up to the fashion industry to put its best foot forward and create things that will make everybody go, 'God damn, I have to buy that.'"

As CFDA President von Furstenberg was co-organizer of Anna Wintour's brainchild "Fashion's Night Out," an odd sort of consumer lovefest dotted by Oscar de la Renta serenading Barbara Walters and Jonathan Adler at a potter's wheel. "Fashion's Night Out" articulated the industry's shared mania to encourage consumers back into stores in the midst of the worst U.S. recession in 70 years. Over 60 designers will debut spring 2010 collections at this fall's semi-annual fashion week and all of them will grapple with the question of how to get consumers back into stores, which have seen sales fall every month for the past year.

Diane von Furstenberg's approach to this dilemma was to provide an aesthetic oasis in a desert of warehouse sales. Von Furstenberg who made fashion history with her iconic wrap dress in the 1970's and has since continued to pioneer her wearable, bold-faced designs, is no stranger to spring collections. But this year the message was clear, let the modern woman embrace her inner wanderlust; emotional, sartorial or geographic. Let her find her oasis in a fiscal desert. Escapism grounded in the now. On the DVF website the collection's tagline reads, "wherever she goes, she belongs" and the invitation to the show is a palmtree-ed postcard, post-stamped "Oasis, DVF" with 2009 stamped in roman numerals.

Von Furstenberg described the 2010 collection as, "Looking into antiquity ... for effortless beauty." The show, a magical mystery tour through a David Roberts Disneyland, employed all illusions of oases and the converging cultures that meet there. A celebration of the undrawn line that divides Northern Africa and Subsaharan. The line that isn't actually drawn by national borders but by dust patterns and the people who move among them. The line where Arabian Nights meets Conrad's concubines and the traveler gracefully slips into the scenery. Indeed, the program notes, "An Orientalist figure set in marbled temples or against a backdrop of dazzling blue sky, she is a reflection of her surroundings." The collection is about fantasy, illusion and whimsy set against a Bedouin sky and Ramses' ruins.

Described as "soft with structure," the collection mixes fantasies and travelers' myths. The 43 outfits are detailed in the program next to their model's name and offer descriptions such as, Alyona's "palace tiger Thai silk coat, golden silk charmeuse bomber, leopard chiffon jodhpurs" and Karlie's "black zebra appliqué rope dress." Stacked, striped lanyard cuffs from the Vital Voices Collection of African Women Artisans work their way up models' asparagus-thick forearms while H. Stern provides more weighty adornments. Pieces range from "hammered metal spun into an airy bolero" to shredded chiffon jackets and silk camouflage jodphurs, more Masai Mara plains than traditional khaki Rorschach amoebas. The designs' mixture of wearability and fantasy blend the romance of Salaambo with Maria Schneider's dust-bitten calm in "The Passenger."

Bedecked in the "gold coin beaded leather harem shift" the final model exits. Von Furstenberg appears from the wings, taxi-ing elegantly down the runway with a personal clapper behind her reminding the audience to hasten their applause. "Spirited and strong...she commands with her presence, but is as fleeting as a mirage," the program notes describe the ephemeral but omnipresent female inspiring and embodying this collection. The program lures the now-conscious consumer into this oasis, convincing her she is the queen of her desert. Yet, by the end of the show, it is von Furstenberg, gilded in bronzer and post-show glow, who rises like the phoenix out of the economic ashes into modern mythdom.