'FASHION IS A MYSTERIOUS thing; it reflects the period you live in, the way people want to project themselves,' says fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. And if anyone knows about the ups and downs of the fashion industry and the changes and moods of the time, it's von Furstenberg.
Born into an upper-middle-class family in Belgium, von Furstenberg went on to lead the fairytale life many little girls dream about by marrying a prince - Egon of Furstenberg, the eldest son of a German prince and his first wife, an heiress to the Fiat fortune - in 1969.
Unable to find flattering yet comfortable clothes in the early 1970s, von Furstenberg began to design her own. In New York, where she and her husband had settled to raise their two children, she came up with the wrap dress, her label's signature piece. It was such an important contribution to women's fashion that it is displayed in the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
'The wrap is the most traditional form of dressing, like a kimono or a toga; it closes without buttons or zippers,' says von Furstenberg. 'What made the DVF wrap dress different in the 70s was that it was made out of jersey. It moulded the body, sculpted it and allowed for it to move. It's extremely flattering and functional, seasonless and can be worn very casually as well as dressed up.'
In a bid to take her dress to the masses, von Furstenberg met Diana Vreeland, then editor of American Vogue, who fell in love with her designs and regularly featured them in editorials. Success came quickly and by 1975 von Furstenberg had sold more than 5 million wrap dresses. But while her fashion career took off, her marriage faltered and she divorced in 1972.
Several years later the market had become saturated with the dress and, to avoid bankruptcy, von Furstenberg was forced to sell her dress licence. 'I was young and inexperienced and surrounded myself with a lot of men in suits who told me what to do. I learnt a great deal from that time about myself and how to build a brand, so when I saw that there was a huge demand for the wrap in the early 90s, I decided to try it a second time around.'
Revamped to look younger and fresher, von Furstenberg's wrap dress has, for the second time, cultivated a Hollywood following. It looks like this time the wrap is here to stay - so much so that von Furstenberg was recently named President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Channelling Marlene Dietrich's sense of style and Jackie O's retro glamour, von Furstenberg chooses clothes that allow her freedom to move. 'I like fluidity in garments, either very sexy or very comfortable. My role in fashion is to give women little tools to make them more beautiful and more themselves.'
Von Furstenberg, who is 61, keeps her beauty rituals to a minimum, focusing mainly on health and a positive attitude. 'I eat a lot of vegetables and raw foods, I drink a lot of water and I love life.
I meditate daily and practise yoga twice a week. I have a shiatsu massage twice a week and I hike on the weekends.
I stress very little and I enjoy who I am.'
It is this outlook that has led to the self-assurance von Furstenberg says is key to pulling off any look. 'I've found that over the years, the only difference in my style is that I have become more confident in how I wear my clothes.'
And with this renewed sense of self and timeless style, von Furstenberg has plenty to be confident about.