Diane von Furstenberg

Fashion Designer

New York City

31 December 1946

Diane von Furstenberg

Diane von Furstenberg is a Belgian-American fashion designer best known for her iconic wrap dress.

Diane von Furstenberg was born Diane Simone Michelle Halfin on December 31, 1946, in Brussels, Belgium. Her well-to-do Jewish parents, Leon, an electronics executive, and Liliane Nahmias Halfin, provided von Furstenberg with a comfortable childhood. Her mother, a Nazi concentration camp survivor, imbued her with the self-confidence and drive that helped her become one of the world’s most successful fashion designers. 

Diane has spoken broadly about her mother’s influence in her life, crediting her for teaching her that “Fear is not an option.” Aged 18 she attended Madrid University, later transferring to the University of Geneva in Switzerland to study economics. It was here that she met her first husband, Prince Egon zu Fürstenberg, the German elder son of Prince Tassilo zu Fürstenberg and his first wife, Clara Agnelli, an heiress to the Fiat fortune.

They married in 1969, moved to New York, and went on to have two children – a son, Prince Alexandre von Furstenberg, and a daughter Princess Tatiana von Furstenberg – but divorced amicably three years later in 1972. Von Furstenberg decided to keep her married name, choosing to use the prefix "von" as opposed to the traditional German "zu", due to the latter rarely being used outside of Europe, and also chose to drop the umlaut from above the "u" in Furstenberg.

She then moved to Paris and worked as an assistant to fashion photographer’s agent, Albert Koski. She left Paris for Italy to work as an apprentice to textile manufacturer Angelo Ferretti in his factory, where she learned about cut, color and fabric. It was here that she designed and produced her first silk jersey dresses.

In 1970, with a $30,000 investment, Diane began designing women’s clothes – "The minute I knew I was about to be Egon’s wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts." (Her former husband also became a fashion designer in 1974.)

She first created her now-iconic wrap dress in 1972, when she saw Julie Nixon Eisenhower on television wearing one of her wrap tops with one of her skirts – and decided to combine the two garments in to one. After moving to New York, she met with famed Vogue editor Diana Vreeland who declared her designs “absolutely smashing.” She then had her name listed on the Fashion Calendar for New York Fashion Week, and so her business was created. 

Due to its wide-reaching appeal, the wrap dress came to be seen as a symbol of women’s liberation in the Seventies. "It’s more than just a dress; it’s a spirit," Von Furstenberg told The Independent in 2008. "The wrap dress was an interesting cultural phenomenon, and one that has lasted 30 years.  What is so special about it is that it’s actually a very traditional form of clothing. It’s like a toga, it’s like a kimono, without buttons, without a zipper. What made my wrap dresses different is that they were made out of jersey and they sculpted the body." She appeared on the cover of Newsweek in November 1976 having sold five million wrap dresses. She was touted as an icon of female liberation. The accompanying article declared her “the most marketable woman since Coco Chanel.” 

In 1974, Diane launched a cosmetic line and her first fragrance, Tatiana, which was named after her daughter.  The New York Times reported that the annual retail sales for the company in 1979 was $150 million. 

In 1985, she moved to Paris, France where she founded Salvy, a French-language publishing house. Furstenberg started a number of other businesses including a line of cosmetics and a home-shopping business, which she launched in 1991.

In 1992, Diane sold $1.2 million dollars worth of her Silk Assets collection in two hours on QVC. She credited this success with giving her the confidence to re-launch her company. Diane re-launched her company in 1997, and re-introduced the wrap dress, which gained traction with an entirely new generation of women.  In 1998, she published her business memoir, Diane: A Signature Life. 

In 2001, Von Furstenberg married media mogul Barry Diller. "We met 32 years ago, lived together and fell in love, and then I left him, very abruptly. But he was always there somehow, even though I was having other relationships, and we always thought, maybe, one day, we would get married," she told The Independent in 2008. "It was something we said we would do when we got old. And then one day it was his birthday and I didn’t know what to give him – so I said, ‘If you want, I will marry you for your birthday.’ So we went to City Hall with my children and my brother and we got married."

In 2004, she introduced the DVF by H. Stern fine jewelry collection, and launched scarves and beachwear. 

In 2005, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awarded her a lifetime achievement award, and the following year named her as their president. "I want to really work on all the benefits this membership gives," she said of her new role. "The most important thing – and I would like this to be my legacy – is to really create an incredible network service system. I would like to go to the mayor and see what he can do for us. Our mayor appreciates that the fashion business is a huge business, and I would like to see what we can do together. We will have to talk about the endowment, and overall, create more of a brand for the CFDA, which is something I know how to do."

In 2008, she received a star on Seventh Avenue’s Fashion Walk of Fame.  In 2009, a large-scale retrospective exhibition entitled "Diane von Furstenberg: Journey of a Dress" opened at the Manezh, one of Moscow’s largest public exhibition spaces. The show was curated by Andre Leon Talley and attracted a lot of media attention. In 2010, the exhibition traveled to Sao Paulo, and in 2011, to the Pace Gallery in Beijing. 

"Diane von Furstenberg: Journey of a Dress" 

She launched the DVF Awards in 2010, a scheme which aims to recognise women whose leadership skills and vision have has a positive impact on the lives of other women around the world. Also in 2010, Diane von Furstenberg was award a Gold Medal at the annual Queen Sofia Spanish Institute Gold Medal Gala. 

In 2011, DVF introduced a home collection as well as a signature fragrance, DIANE. 

In February 2011, she received the Award of Courage for her enduring efforts in combating AIDS by internationally renowned charity amfAR.

In April 2011, she received the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal from the Municipal Art Society of New York, in recognition of her "outstanding contribution to the built environment of New York City" – chosen for helping to redevelop the Meatpacking District, as well her work supporting the city’s High Line Park – a public space built on an elevated derelict railway track. Together with her husband Barry Diller, Von Furstenberg donated $10 million (£6.1 million), towards the project.

In 2012, she launched her first children’s collection with GapKids  and a denim collaboration with CURRENT/ELLIOTT. 

Her clothes have been worn by many celebrities including Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsale, Madonna, Tina Brown, Jessica Alba, Susan Sarandon, and Jennifer Lopez. 

with Jennifer Lopez

Diane von Furstenberg sits on the board of Vital Voices, a women’s leadership organization that empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the world. Diane is also an honorary director of the Housatonic Valley Association. 

Below Diane von Furstenberg Collection