Diane von Furstenberg was 22 when she came up with the idea for an easy little wrap dress. The year was 1973. "I was newly married and pregnant, but I wanted to be an independent woman," von Furstenberg says today. Her wrap, based on a dancer’s top, became an instant hit: It fit, it flattered, it didn’t break the bank. "I wanted women to feel comfortable, sexy, liberated," she says.
Von Furstenberg should know. She was, after all, her own muse: That little wrap reflected her bold, confident, sultry sensibility — and women of all ages wanted to copy it. But fashion is fickle; by the mid-1980s the wrap dress had been replaced by the power suit. And just like that, von Furstenberg was, as Heidi Klum might say, "ou-u-t!"
More than 10 years later, chic Gen-Xers were combing vintage shops looking for the original wrap dresses. It made sense: The style-savvy daughters of von Furstenberg’s first customers wanted that dress — and everything it stood for. It took some convincing, but in 1997 von Furstenberg officially relaunched her business, and by 2006 her born-again brand had annual net sales of $104 million. "The reason the dress works today is the same reason it worked before," she says. "It’s the jersey! It makes women look sexy but not vulgar."
Von Furstenberg’s tale is one of invention, reinvention, and re-reinvention. Her style has always been her own and is as identifiable today as it ever was. Current rules? "Skip the turtlenecks, and show a little skin at the neck and chest; don’t wear too much makeup; and don’t overdo the hair." Above all else: "When you shop, you should always ask yourself, does this feel like me?"
How to get Diane von Furstenberg’s look:
- Layer graphic prints. The key? Stay within a color scheme, and keep hemlines consistent. "Whether you throw a print coat over basic black or use two different patterns together, layering is modern," von Furstenberg says.
- Go for statement jewelry.Chain-link bracelets are always in style, and von Furstenberg is now designing a line for the jeweler H.Stern. "I suppose you could consider them signature pieces. I think they’re current, confident, and sexy."
- Try bold bangles. Chunky bracelets in natural wood are the perfect complement for graphic prints.
- Get back to beauty basics.Once known for her dramatic makeup, von Furstenberg has recently found that less is more. "Let’s be realistic. I’m 61 years old, and I don’t go out to seduce any more."
- Focus on one large piece.For day or night, von Furstenberg loves the bold look of a single dramatic accessory. A classic cocktail ring and glossy gold hoops work for day or night.
- Get into green."I’m a huge print fan," she says. "Especially vines, leaves, and branches."
Originally published on MORE.com, June 2008.