The modern day definition of a renaissance woman, Diane von Furstenberg's titles include designer, business woman, fashion icon, writer, wife, mother and grandmother. The 74-year old dynamo also spent the pandemic writing Own It: The Secret to Life, a new pocket-sized A-Z guide full of sage advice on how to live an empowered life, published by Phaidon on International Women’s Day. Sara Friedlander, Christie’s Deputy Chairman of Post-War and Contemporary Art, caught up with the renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist over Zoom to talk about her new book, how art enriches her life, and her friendship with Andy Warhol.
Sara Friedlander: During COVID, I haven't done anything except cook and work and watch our children. And you wrote a book! What initially inspired you to write this book and how you were able to be so productive during this surreal time?
Diane von Furstenberg: First of all, I don’t have a one- and five-year old! People always ask me, ‘What did you want to do when you grew up, when you were growing up?’ I said, ‘I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be a woman in charge, which means a woman who is independent, who could pay her bills and who can basically have a man's life in a woman's body. I became in charge because of the wrap dress.’
SF: Can you explain the title Own It? It’s a common enough expression, but not one usually followed by the phrase ‘the secret to life’.
DVF: People would say, who is the DVF customer? And I would say, ‘it's the woman in charge.’ So in-charge has always been the umbrella over everything I do myself and for others. Two years ago, I launched the ‘In-Charge’ movement because a lot of people think being in charge is aggressive, right? And being aggressive is always male. And that isn’t what ‘being in charge’ is. Being in charge is first and foremost a commitment to yourself. It’s owning who you are. I realized that ‘owning it’ was really the secret of everything. So I called the book Own It, and wrote down all the words that matter a lot to me. I decided to write this book as a dictionary. Sometimes they were definitions, sometimes anecdotes, but everything links back to ‘own it’.
SF: I could not let this conversation happen without asking about your friendship with Andy Warhol, who you specifically reference in your book. He too wrote an A- Z book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. What was it like to be painted by him and to be part of his universe?
DVF: I have a copy of Andy Warhol’s book, A-Z. He signed a copy for me. You know who also wrote a book like that, which I only found out later? Marlene Dietrich [Marlene Dietrich's ABC]. I posed for Andy Warhol twice. Once, I bought two paintings and left the others with him. The second time he gave me one, I didn't buy any. And of course when he died, I bought them all.
SF: There's so much beautiful art behind you in your home. I'd love to hear your thoughts about collecting and how art has enriched your own life.
DVF: I pretend I don't collect because I don't like the idea of being a prisoner of a collection. The first thing you collect is your friends, your experiences, your souvenirs. I have collected the art of artists I know and have had a lot of artists paint me. My best friend, Anh Duong, she’s an artist, and she did my portrait and sculptures of me. I have a lot of paintings of hers. She’s pretty amazing.
‘When I was first successful, I went to a jewellery store in Beverly Hills and saw a beautiful pre-Raphaelite painting hanging inside. I fell in love with it and bought it, and started to collect Pre-Raphaelite paintings of women.’
SF: What would you say to women today who are aspiring to be artists or collectors?
DVF: I think women have to be accepted as artists for so much longer than men. You decide to be an artist because you have the urge or sometimes because you are in pain. There are very few artists who paint or who write about happiness. The art is an emotion, you know, that's the different between design and art: design is utilitarian and art is emotion. Art comes from within. The collector, well, it depends on your taste, then it depends on your resources.
SF: What role do you feel that women are playing in the world today and are we in a moment when women have their opportunity to really own it like never before?
DVF: We are making progress. Feminism is coming back into fashion, so to speak, and that’s a very good thing. I am a feminist. I wasn’t a feminist for my daughter’s generation, it wasn’t as important then, but I could see for my granddaughters, who are in college, it’s really important to be a feminist now. Women will save the world. We are stronger and more adaptable. Our need to be included cannot be taken for granted. It is very important. And with the world going virtual, it’s also very important for women to go into tech and learn to code. We must program Artificial Intelligence with a woman’s character and women’s stories, so we don’t lose our feminine energy in the virtual world.