Be honest with yourself
Like many, von Fürstenberg’s business struggled last year and by June, it was reported that more than 75 per cent of staff were let go and 18 out of its 19 US stores closed. Last month, the business’ rental service closed down a year after launch.
“I hired the wrong management, I hired people who wanted to expand too fast. I can say that my business was a little bit shaky. I had grown too much and too fast, so when the pandemic happened, I said, ‘I’m just not going to survive and I have to face all the different possibilities.’ One of them was to face bankruptcy,” she revealed.
“I had to own that reality, I did the best I could. I’m very pleased a year later to know that [while] I shrank the business, it’s on much more solid ground now. It’s about owning it, not saying, ‘I hope it will pass.’ Things don’t pass and hoping doesn’t help. Sometimes you just have to act and make hard decisions, face it, go for it.”
Always keep your customer at the centre of everything
As von Fürstenberg recalls, from the time she first began creating wrap dresses in the 70s, her customer focus has always been on “women in charge” and her garments were aimed at building confidence in her customers with their flattering, easy-to-wear jersey fabrics and bold prints.
“She’s no longer a girl, she’s a woman, she’s in charge and she owns it. That is the woman I’m designing for. I always think about the woman first, because the fabric is soft, the colours are flattering, the prints have beautiful movement,” she said.
“When I first started [making dresses], other designers would look at it, and go, ‘What’s so special about these little dresses?’ if you see them on a hanger, it’s nothing special, but somehow when a woman puts it on, her body language [changes].
“When you’re comfortable, you are wearing the dress, the dress doesn’t wear you.”
At the age of 22, von Fürstenberg married her first husband, Prince Egon von Fürstenberg and had her first child, but it was important to her that she developed her own independence and “had a man’s life in a woman’s body”. After working with an Italian printing factory and a trip to New York, she was inspired to create her own garments.
“It was very interesting because the more confident I became, the more I was selling confidence to other women. I would go into fitting rooms and wrap them [in the dresses] and as I was projecting my confidence, I was making other women feel confident. And from that on, even though there wasn’t social media at the time, I established a relationship with women. The way I am as a designer is that I always put the woman first.”
Use philanthropy to create a chain of love
Last week, von Fürstenberg announced her partnership with Amazon for a second year in a row to put a spotlight on women-owned businesses during a month-long campaign on the e-commerce platform.
“Philanthropy can be intimidating at first. When I was younger, the word made it sound like women volunteering in a hospital, which is not something I’d be good at doing,” she admitted.
“Because I was able to be a liberated woman, helping women is what I care about. I created the DVF Award to support women who do extraordinary things, women who have the strength to fight and courage to survive, then when they survive, they have the leadership to inspire. When I speak to these women, I feel like I have done nothing. Again it’s a chain of love. It’s about helping one another and how we create a community. I want to create a movement about being in charge. Being in charge is a commitment to ourselves, it’s owning who we are and once we do that, we can learn how to connect, expand, inspire and advocate.”
Fear is not an option
When von Fürstenberg was a child and afraid of the dark, her mother locked her in a closet, specifically to help conquer her fear.
“My mother told me fear was not an option. My mother survived the holocaust, she was in slave labour, she was in the worst prisons in the world, and when she came out, she weighed 45 pounds, but she survived. She wasn’t supposed to have a child but she had me. She was a miracle, my birth was a miracle, so fear is not an option,” observed von Fürstenberg.
“You take fear and throw it in the waste paper basket. It doesn’t change the situation, but at least the fear is gone.”
Perform a miracle once a day
As part of her daily routine, von Fürstenberg makes sure she “performs a miracle” by helping someone else. What started as a “little game” has now become a “chain of love”.
“We all have a magic wand and the more we use it, the more powerful our magic wand is. I get up in the morning and check [my] emails, so I make a point of delivering one miracle a day. Sometimes it’s just introducing a person – who would never, ever have the opportunity – to meet another person,” she explained.
“If you have a voice or influence or you know lots of people, why not? Why not share that with somebody who doesn’t have that opportunity? If you [offer] that opportunity, that person too will have a voice, that person too will have an influence and that person too can make miracles.”