02/15/2011 02:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Diane von Furstenberg: Activist and Icon

At 64 Diane Von Furstenberg is still a fearless leader of women.

Last week, among handing down new guidelines to ensure that models are well treated during Fashion Week (saying no to models under 16 and providing a backstage environment that is smoke and alcohol-free) the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America also chose the winners for the second round of her very own DVF Awards, to be held at the United Nations on the final evening of the World Summit. Created with her husband Barry Diller to heighten exposure for and give resources to individuals who work on women's cause, honorees will receive $50,000 to support their humanitarian efforts.

The spotlight on women from around the globe that have made a difference in the lives of other women has become a cause the Belgium-born daughter of a Holocaust survivor is increasingly committed to. Despite being immortalized by Andy Warhol as a "glamazon" in pop art, von Furstenberg has always been somewhat of a poster girl for women's liberation, famously saying that she wanted "to lead a man's life in a women's body." When we spoke recently she admitted it was "just a way to say... I wanted to be independent and pay my own bills. Nothing else. I always knew the kind of woman I wanted to be... independent and strong. But I didn't know how I was going to get there."

The DVF story is an inspiring one. After marrying and conceiving a child with Prince Egon von Furstenberg at the tender age of 22, a determined DVF used fashion as a way to escape and be in charge of her own destiny. Her first job was in a Como printing factory. When she was moving the New York City to be married she suggested to her boss that she take a few samples to sell in America. Once there, she and her handsome, aristocratic husband were soon hanging with the cool gang (Bianca Jagger and YSL) at Studio 54 and within due time she (and her wrap dresses) were noticed by Diana Vreeland who was editing Vogue at the time. She eventually landed on the cover of Newsweek at 29 years old, labelled as "the most marketable woman in fashion since Coco Chanel".

It wasn't all glittering success though. She eventually spilt with the prince, lost control of her business in the '80s and struggled with cancer. But in the style of a true independent woman, she clawed her way back and draws on it today. She states:

I have been willing to share my experiences, my success, my vulnerability, my failures to help other women. I see myself as a woman who knows herself and other women. I love myself and I love women. We are all alike really. At this point, my mission in life is to empower women ... I do it through my work, fashion, I do through mentoring, I do through philanthropy. Now that my mother has passed away, I realise how important she has been in my life and how much strength she has given me. She is the one that taught me that fear is not an option.

Last year's SS 2011 Goddess collection, inspired by Isadora Duncan, marked the debut of her new creative director, Yvan Mispelaere. Handing over the reins to a man in a company she biased "towards women" must have taken some courage. "Every day I congratulate myself for having chosen him. We are sooooo compatible, it is incredible! He is talented, well read, intelligent and kind. I really love him."

Her message to women is simple? Be not afraid.

To see Diane Von Furstenberg in the earlier years click here

To vote People's Voice on the DVF awards click here

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