Ten takeaways from our Diane von Furstenberg interview
The fashion designer, philanthropist and Phaidon author opens up on the thinking behind her new book, Own It
Earlier this month, Diane von Furstenberg, the internationally celebrated fashion designer and philanthropist, set aside an hour to discuss her new book, Own It: The Secret to Life, with William Norwich, her good friend and Phaidon’s Commissioning Editor for Fashion and Interiors.
The book, which we will proudly publish on 8 March, International Women’s Day, is an accessible, empowering A-Z treatise for turning problems into assets and enjoying personal growth at any age. The invited, online audience got to hear the conversation, and put questions to von Furstenberg herself.
Did you miss it? Don’t worry; you can watch the whole thing below, and read these edited highlights, in which von Furstenberg describes her life, the writing of the book, and whom she thinks the new book will appeal to.
A book of aphorisms appealed to the author, because she is known for her worldy wise bon mots “I love to be the oracle, and at my age it’s completely allowed.”
Own It was nearly called In Charge “That title came from when I was growing up. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be; I wanted to be a woman in charge. When people asked me ‘who do you dress?’ I always said ‘the woman in charge.’”
Instead its title is Own It – a phrase that lies at the heart of her own personal philosophy “The secret really is owning it. Own our imperfections and they become our assets; own our vulnerabilities and they become our strengths.”
The subtitle, The Secret to Life, was the result of a subtle rewrite too “It had been The Secret of Life, but then I thought, ‘Don’t you think it’s arrogant?’ I sent it to my very good friend [the tech entrepreneur and investor] Sam Altman, and he said, 'You know, it should be ‘to Life’.”
These might sound like small changes, but words are very important to von Furstenberg “I give an incredible amount of importance to words; I need words to make things happen, even in fashion. Unless I can put it in a word, it’s very vague and it doesn’t happen. I need words for manifestation; I need words to manifest anything.”
Some of her most challenging and painful moments in life enabled her to appreciate the power of the written word “While I was in the cancer ward, that’s when I understood compassion. When you think about the word that opens something up. Paying attention to words and details puts you in charge.”
Though she recently turned 74, she’s charmed to discover her new book truly appeals to younger readers “I did not think this book would resonate with very young people. And it was unbelievable. Young girls said ‘this is great, I want this for all my friends’.”
Whatever the age bracket, she hopes the book will guide readers and make them strong “It feels uplifting but in a serious way, in a deep way, and in a way that makes you strong. When you read it you realise you have the keys, you are in charge; being honest to yourself and not lying is the key. It’s all truth, plain truth.”
Von Furstenberg’s own mother was incredibly tough, and Diane’s birth was something of a miracle “18 months before I was born, my mother was in Auschwitz and weighed 29 kilos. She wasn’t supposed to have a child, so before I was even born I was already a miracle. My mother was very tough. ‘Fear is not an option,’ she would say. If I was afraid of the dark she would put me in the closet. Today she would go to jail, but as a result she made me strong. Everything about how she raised me was about facing the truth and dealing with whatever I was facing.”
Now, able to reflect back on her very full life, she hopes some of her wisdom can lead to a little more female empowerment "I’m an old woman now; I’ve lived a very full life; I have a lot of experience; and I’m very grateful for the life I’ve had, the children and the grandchildren. I have a voice and it is my duty and privilege to share that voice, so I can help other women to have some of the confidence I’ve found to become the woman that they want to be. To be the woman you want to be, you first have to be the woman you are, because what you dislike about yourself might be your asset.”