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My Cultural Life: Diane von Furstenberg

The fashion legend on what she’s watching, listening to and more

diane von furstenberg interview
Jesse Frohman

There isn’t a single moment that could define fashion titan Diane von Furstenberg’s five-decade career, but there is a dress. Conceived in the early 70s soon after she established her eponymous label, the wrap dress catapulted the Belgium-born designer to commercial success and laid the first bricks of the fashion empire she’s built today. The pace hasn’t let up since – she launches her first home collection with H&M this year, and shares a lifetime of bitesize wisdom and inspiration in her latest book Own It: The Secret To Life (out 8 March, Phaidon, £9.95). ‘If you own your imperfections, they become your assets, and if you own your vulnerability, it becomes your strength.’

I love many kinds of music, but I also find enormous peace and strength in silence. When I was in third grade, I wrote that my favourite music is total silence – and I got a fail.

Audiobooks have changed my life. At the moment, I’m listening to Obama’s A Promised Land – he’s been speaking to me for hours and hours – and a book called Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, which discusses race in the most wonderful way. It’s just brilliant.

diane von furstenberg interview
A scene from Fantasia, 1940

I’ve recently rediscovered the early Walt Disney films, and I’m also reading a biography on him, which is fascinating. I watched Fantasia a few weeks ago and I loved it. I find them so incredibly moving and intelligent and beautiful.

Travel has been the essence of my life. I’ve done nothing but travel. So I’ve actually been very happy to stay home, spending time with myself and on myself. I’ve found that to be extremely productive and enriching. You also travel with books, and with movies.

One of my most memorable trips was to Easter Island, which I visited alone last January. That was one of the most wonderful presents I’ve ever given myself – it was incredible.

diane von furstenberg interview
The stone moai of Ahu Tongariki on Easter Island
David A Eastley / Alamy

For me, London means Claridge’s. I’ve stayed there ever since my first big deal, when I sold my cosmetics company [in 1983]. I’ve even designed a few suites. If I had a free day, I would see what’s at the Royal Academy and what plays are on. You do what London offers you, which is rich culture.

I never visit without going to Smythson. It’s one of my things – I keep a diary and my diaries are from Smythson.

My favourite galleries include Tate Britain and the Prado in Madrid. I love art museums that have a point of view, and a soul.

diane von furstenberg interview
Inside London’s Tate Britain gallery

Words are very important to me. Somebody very smart once told me that character is the only thing that they cannot take away from you. You could lose your health, your wealth, your everything, even your freedom, but you never lose your character.

This is the sunset of my life, so I’m very contemplative. What’s really important to me is the legacy that I leave behind. The first part of that is my children and grandchildren, the second is my brand and the third is the impact that I can have on women. Over the years, I’ve had with me this movement of women in charge.

This year, I’m looking forward to being helpful. Fighting inequality is something that is going to be an absolute must for everyone. I would like all of us to come together and show humanity.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration March 2021

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