THE first thing you notice about Diane von Furstenberg is that she looks incredible. At 64, this is a lady who knows how to dress, colour block and accessorise. She is also beautifully spoken, with a rich exotic accent that is less Belgian and more pan-European, with a hint of the New Yorker she now is. She’s the kind of women you imagine drinking champagne on a yacht while wearing diamonds, but she’s also passionate, engaging and, most of all, wise. The kind of woman who, when she opens her mouth, makes you want to listen.
“Young women seem to have forgotten the value and power of a perfume. Perfume has been used since antiquity as a weapon. This is a weapon. This has got do with memory and addiction and it’s got to do with subconscious. It’s like the full stop at the end of a sentence...”
I’m in DVF’s Bruton Street boutique for the UK launch of Diane’s eponymous fragrance, but if you believe that this is DVF’s first foray into the beauty world, you are mistaken. “I want to tell you the adventure” she begins. “You may not know because you were not born, but I had a very successful fragrance called Tatiana [her daughter’s name] which I developed in the late ’70s and it was very, very successful.”
This is no rose-tinted trip down memory lane. Until the early ’80s, DVF was very much focused on beauty. In 1979, she wrote Diane von Furstenberg’s Book of Beauty: How to Become a More Attractive, Confident and Sensual Woman and was touring the US talking to women about her cosmetics line. Central to this, and to everything DVF does, was her relationship with women. “When I first started I was a young European girl, who I did not know what I wanted to do but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be an independent woman.”
After moving to America with a suitcase full of dresses her iconic fashion line was born (by 1976 she had sold over a million wrap dresses), but her beloved beauty line’s days were numbered. She explains (with an honesty that is rare in her business) the fate of Tatiana and the cosmetics line, “The whole thing was sold to Beecham [the pharmaceuticals company that later became GSK] because at the time the chairman of Beecham was buying all these cosmetic companies and by the time he had bought them all he got fired because they got bored and decided they didn’t want to be in cosmetics.” So her beauty company was lost, but in the meantime Diane had become a multi-millionaire businesswomen, was touted as the new Coco Chanel and had appeared on the cover of The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.
Yet, three decades on the beauty business was still on her mind. “From the beginning, I had a very special dialogue with women…that is why I got involved in the beauty world, because nothing is more personal than the relationship a woman has with a mirror.” But one woman was crucial to Diane’s plans to return to the beauty business. “I’ve always wanted to meet Chantal Roos. She is a legend in our business”. And so, a few years ago they met. Diane was speaking at a conference in Dubai and she asked Roos to meet her in to New York and in typical New York fashion they ‘did lunch’.
At the time Roos was head of YSL Beauty and unable to take on a new project. When Roos left YSL, Diane approached her again. “I said ‘OK I waited for you’”, but Roos was still not convinced, until she surveyed a group of woman about the project and the results persuaded her that this was something she had to do.
Team assembled, Diane’s vision now was to create a classic. “I told Chantal, ‘there is no rush, we have to do this right’”. So did she have any fears about entering the highly competitive industry again? “I think that what has happened in the last ten to fifteen years in the world of perfumes and fragrances, is there have been a lot of beautiful women, beautiful models, beautiful singers and beautiful celebrities attached to very beautiful bottles bought together in an ad, but nobody seems to have cared or have worried much about the fragrance or about the smell. I believe that when things come out of marketing, they’re not authentic”, she says, which I take as a no. She goes on, “When something is not authentic, it doesn’t last. I didn’t create that little dress…” (She says pointing at a picture of herself on the wall looking smoking hot in her own design) “out of marketing; I had no idea that this would be a dress that would last for 40 years”.
She’s not messing around here; in fact, that very same print dress Diane wore in her campaign back in the ’70s was later worn by Michelle Obama on the first official Obama family Christmas card. In an age of disposable fashion, throwaway make-up and celebrities releasing fragrances to commemorate their birthdays, wedding and trips to the dentist, the DVF message is incredibly refreshing. She finishes her point with, “Chantal and I are not the youngest, but we are the smartest. ” It is this point, I’m pretty sure I am in awe, or maybe even in love, with Diane von Furstenberg.
With all that fighting talk, the perfume better be good. And it is. As she ties a piece of ribbon, spritzed with the fragrance, around my wrist I’m thinking ‘Now I can say I have been dressed by Diane von Furstenberg’, which is what pedants may refer to as a lie, but I care not…Diane von Furstenberg is touching my hand. As she does she continues, “Young women seem to have forgotten the value and power of a perfume. Perfume has been used since antiquity as a weapon. This is a weapon. This has got do with memory and addiction and it’s got to do with subconscious. It’s like the full stop at the end of a sentence. A sentence is not finished until you put the full stop. Nothing happens until you put on your fragrance.” The perfume is called Diane (to say this correctly put on your best Parisienne accent and repeat after me…‘DEE-ahyn’) “The most intimate thing I have is my name, and in this bottle I have put all my knowledge, all my experience, all my seduction tricks and all my power, this is quite something.”
Two of her favourite flowers sparked the beginnings of the fragrance. The first was frangipani, which Diane describes like she was talking about a lover: “If you’ve been to Bali or any pacific island… (which I haven’t, but her description makes me think I have) “you have seen the frangipani. The smell is like no smell ever. It smells like the sun, it smells like optimism, it smells like the light, it smells clean, it’s joy de vivre”. The other flower is violet which Diane personifies as one that “acts likes she’s humble…she’s so small you can step on it, but if you find her and you smell her…she’s very provocative, very mischievous and very powerful.” The mix of these two flowers is what attracted her. “These two are so different and that’s what I believe in. I like to say: ‘You think I’m this way? Well, I’m not’. That kind of traction and friction is what I was looking for.” From there the fragrance was born with the help of Roos and the ‘nose’ Aurelien Guichard of Givaudan. “It smells delicious, and if you get in an elevator with somebody wearing it, your not going to say get me outta here.”
As a designer the bottle was key for Diane, “I wanted something very tactile in the hands, something that felt very organic, just like the shape of a pebble by the shore. I wanted gold because I think gold brings good luck. Gold comes from antiquity and women ornate themselves with gold like they ordinate themselves with perfume”. And then she adds with her trademark honesty…“And it sells!”
The ad campaign bears the caption that Diane says every day of her life. “This is what I always say when I do an interview, when a girl comes to me and needs a boost and that I will tell you today”…I take a deep breath and ready myself for the Yoda of fashion to bestow her wisdom on me…and then she says, with great emphasis, “Be the woman you want to be.” Far from sounding preachy, or like another meaningless Oprah-esque mantra, it just sounds real, it sounds true, like the voice of experience.
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