My first encounter with Diane von Furstenberg was in 1977, through her first book, Diane von Furstenberg's Book of Beauty. I read that book at least 50 times. It was my style bible. I was just beginning my love affair with fashion, and thought Diane's wrap dress was the most amazing piece of clothing ever, even if I didn't even own one at the time. I was in awe of this young, hip princess and her glamorous life.
What was so revolutionary about the wrap dress? The style flattered just about anyone, no matter their dress size or height. The silk jersey never wrinkled, making it the perfect dress to wear to work and out to dinner. The wrap dress traveled well, was easy to care for and relatively affordable (around $75 in 1970s pricing). It made women feel special and sexy. Diane's motto, "Feel like a woman, wear a dress," resonated particularly in the '70s, when women felt the need to dress like men to be successful at work. With Diane's dresses they could be both professional and feminine.
Diane's wrap dress made her the most famous female designer next to Coco Chanel. She had sold more than 5 million dresses from the time of its debut in 1974 to 1976. Diane made the cover of Newsweek in March 1976 and seemed destined to be fashion's reigning queen.
But by the time I was old enough to earn my own money and shop, Diane had licensed her business, moved to Paris and sort of disappeared from the fashion scene. Diane had over-franchised and lost control of her image. I'm sure many people thought we'd never see her designs on the runway again.
Fortunately all that changed in the late 1990s, when she found that a new generation of young, stylish women were buying up her 1970s wrap dresses at vintage stores. It inspired her to relaunch her business and take control of the wrap dress. I remember the first time I went to her newly opened retail boutique, on W. 12th St. in New York City's West Village. I still have the first wrap dress I bought there, a cheetah print. I've bought many more dresses and other pieces from DVF, as she's now known. Several years ago she moved her boutique to the Meatpacking District, housed below her company's headquarters. It was there I had my second encounter with her. My first was at a an women's business networking event where she was a keynote speaker. I went up to meet her and got her autograph.
DVF came into the store to review a new display. I was buying a bikini, not something I did very often. I thanked her for making a bikini I felt good in. She said, "You should always wear a bikini." And so I shall. Of course it will always be a DVF bikini (and DVF sunglasses and sandals...)
I have three of her wrap dresses, plus a wrap top, most from the "Vintage" line, which re-introduces fabric prints from the 1970s. I will always be a fan. I love how Diane has reinvented herself, has taken on causes, the CFDA presidency and more. Yet her clothing line remain affordable, compared to other famous designers. While the wrap dress is closer to $400 today, it is still something I can afford to buy once in a while. The thing about wearing a DVF wrap dress is that it makes you feel good, confident and self-assured, something you don't find that much in clothing these days. I feel like it is an investment, and a DVF wrap will always be in style.
In 2004 Andre Leon Tally, editor-at-large for Vogue, wrote a tribute to Diane's wrap dress (when it was 30 years old), Diane von Furstenberg: The Wrap. It's a short little book, full of vintage photos. I still have my copy of Diane Von Furstenberg's Book of Beauty, although I've lost the cover. Now, an exhibit in Los Angeles celebrates 40 years of the DVF wrap dress, DVF 40: Journey of a Dress at the Wishire May Company Building in Los Angeles.
DVF herself was on hand for a live from the opening party broadcast on her website DVF.com, where you can see not only this video but others created for the wrap dress's 40th anniversary. I love that Diane refers to the dress as "she," and gives her dress its due, owing her success to this iconic garment. The exhibit runs through April 1, 2014 and I fully intend on a road trip to LA one weekend soon before it closes.
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