Diane Simone Michelle Halfin was born in Brussels in 1946. Her father was a Romanian who immigrated to Belgium in 1929; her mother was a Greek born Auschwitz survivor. She studied economics at the University of Geneva and it was there, aged 18 that she met her future husband, the heir to the Fiat automotive fortune, German prince Egon of Fürstenberg. They married in Paris in 1969, von Furstenberg wearing a white piqué dress of her own design, made by the fashion house of Dior.
In the same year as her marriage, von Furstenberg apprenticed with an Italian textile manufacturer called Angelo Ferretti and was soon designing simple dresses which fully utilized his silk jersey prints. The von Furstenberg family moved to New York late in the year.
Encouraged by designers Bill Blass and Kenny Lane and by Diana Vreeland, then editor of Vogue, Diane von Furstenberg put together a collection of her dress designs. With a $30,000 investment to open a Seventh Avenue showroom, von Furstenberg soon proved herself as adept a business woman as she was a designer. Her achievement was based on creativity, imagination and hard work. Her line included everything from cosmetics and furs to nurse's uniforms and brought sales of more than $1 billion in the 1980s. She said later; “I lived the American dream, I made money, I made children, I became famous, and I dressed everybody in America.”
Von Furstenberg is best known for her knitted jersey wrap dress, a design so successful that there is a Diane von Furstenberg dress in the collection of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Favouring jersey and brightly coloured geometric prints she cleverly updated what was already a classic style. Her knack for translating and updating it with modern 1970s colours and fabrics was the reason for its huge success, helped in no small way by the charismatic von Furstenberg and her numerous editorial appearances.
When asked how she came up with her iconic wrap dress, von Furstenberg replied “Well, if you're trying to slip out without waking a sleeping man, zips are a nightmare”. Reminded of this she now says; “Haven't you ever tried to creep out of the room unnoticed the following morning? I've done that many times”.
Beyond the wrap dress, von Furstenberg is known for her large and small floral and lively graphic prints and her cinch waisted skirts. She also has had many other successes. In 1985 she moved to Paris where she founded Salvy, a French language publishing house and has launched a number of other businesses including a home shopping company. Von Furstenberg has appeared as a judge on several episodes of Project Runway. Her company has grown to become a global lifestyle brand encompassing ready-to-wear, swimwear, accessories, footwear, Diane von Furstenberg handbags and recently a collection of Amazon Kindle covers.
A true part of popular culture von Furstenberg is referenced in Dolly Parton’s 1981 song ‘Working Girl’. She also served as inspiration and muse for Andy Warhol, Julian Opie and Chuck Close amongst many others. Celebrity fans of trademark DVF style include Kirsten Dunst, Cindy Crawford, the Hilton sisters, Diane Lane, Goldie Hawn, Keira Knightly and Catherine Zeta Jones.