Diane Von Furstenberg On The One Thing All Women Need To Achieve

When you picture a woman who has achieved success in her career and her personal life, and has had a significant impact on society, that person probably looks a lot like Diane von Furstenberg. She was a self-made millionaire by age 30, she basically invented the cornerstone of a professional woman's wardrobe, and she has lived one hell of a rollicking, adventurous life. The child of an Auschwitz survivor, von Furstenberg sought to live life to the absolute fullest: In her 67 years, she's been a princess, a socialite, an apprentice, an entrepreneur, and a tycoon. Equally as important, she's also been a loser — losing her business through bad decisions, losing herself through bad relationships, and losing her health through bad luck. But, like all smart ladies who eventually become wise women, those hiccups only strengthened her resolve to become independent in every conceivable way.
We sat down with von Furstenberg to discuss her new book, The Woman I Wanted to Be. On the heels of a new phase of her DVF brand, a diversifying of her label's offerings, and with a new reality show on E!, von Furstenberg is once again pushing the envelope. We spoke to her about what success means to her and why freedom needs to be a priority in every part of your life.
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Photo: Erik Pendzich/REX USA.
One of the main themes of your book is independence. Has this been a theme that you’ve always been conscious of in your life, or did it just become obvious as you were writing the book?
“Independence is the most important thing. It was, and it still is. After my mother passed away 14 years ago, I realized that so much of who I am and who I became is because of what she went through [at Auschwitz]. The whole book started by my wanting to tell her story. And, yes, she always told me, ‘You have to be independent, you have to be responsible for yourself, and no matter what, never be a victim.’ And those are the things that have driven me all my life.”
Of all the types of independence you talk about in the book, which one is the most important to achieve?
“Financial is the number one. Unless you’re financially independent, you’re can't be truly independent. The moment you can pay your bills and don’t need your father or your husband, you’re independent. That’s it. You have no independence unless you’re independent financially. You just don’t.”
You’ve had pretty unconventional relationships throughout your life, and it seems like you've been adamant about having a certain freedom to explore other options. Is romantic independence something you think is right for everyone?
“No. The most important relationship in life is the one you have with yourself. Once you have that, any other relationship becomes a plus and not a must — and, therefore it becomes luxury, and that is important. The relationship should be a plus, not a must.”
Photo: REX USA.
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One very interesting part your book is when you talked about your relationship with novelist and journalist Alain Elkann, and how it was the first time in your life when you changed your style to suit someone else.
“There’s a side of us women that fantasizes about being submissive, and we sometimes fantasize to change the way we are for men. I’m happy that I lived that, but at the end, the style and the man weren't for me. I just sent him my book — I hope he likes it.”
What stage of life do you think you feel most like yourself?
“You know, at the early stage of when I became the woman I wanted to be, in the mid-'70s. I always love a woman at the end of her 20s, beginning of her 30s. That was when I felt the most empowered, I guess. But, then, you know, today also!”
Another part of your book that really struck me were those moments when you talk about the insecurity you feel about being in the fashion industry and feeling like an outsider.
“I don’t know anyone who is successful who doesn’t feel like a loser sometimes. But, it's precisely that feeling that pushes you ahead, so that’s what I tried to say in the book. That’s where I think, hopefully, it is helpful is that I try to acknowledge that nobody is perfect. It doesn’t matter how successful you are. You still feel like an idiot sometimes, and I wanted to convey that.”
Last question: Your life will be made into a movie, no doubt. Who would you want to play you?
“Marion Cotillard.”
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Perfect.
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