Diane von Furstenberg is all about empowerment

Diane von Furstenberg is all about empowerment
Fashion doyenne Diane von Furstenberg, 61, lauched her brand in 1972. Four years later, her signature wrap dress had already sold five million pieces worldwide. She retired in 1984 but made a comeback in 1998. The DVF brand has now grown into an empire that includes perfumes, cosmetics and homeware. She is married to media mogul Barry Diller.

As one of the doyennes of the American fashion industry, one might expect 68-year-old designer Diane von Furstenberg to be, frankly, a little stiff.

However, despite the authority she wields as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and the respect her four-plus decades of experience in the industry commands, she exudes a charmingly laid-back, almost bohemian air in person.

The designer was in town earlier this week to open this year's Singapore Fashion Week (SFW) with her fall/winter 2015 show on Wednesday evening and launch her new expanded boutique in Ion Orchard's Level 3 on Tuesday.

While American designers have shown at previous editions of SFW, this is the first year the CFDA has officially partnered SFW.

Dressed in a printed blue, black and white shirtdress of her own design and armed with chunky gold bracelets and rings, von Furstenberg - who was on Time magazine's annual list of 100 Most Influential People last month - explains that the organisers of SFW had approached CFDA's chief executive Steven Kolb with the idea, which proved compelling.

"They bring American designers here and we bring Singaporean designers there," she says, touching on the new Fashion Futures programme component, which allows selected Singapore labels to gain tutelage through the CFDA. "It's always a good idea to have an exchange."

Asia is having a moment, she says, with the region's growth. The United States has a number of Asian-American designers making their mark, including Alexander Wang, Joseph Altuzarra and Prabal Gurung, the last of whom appeared at last year's SFW.

Asked to elaborate on challenges faced by the fashion scene here, the designer sagely questions if the local population is ready to embrace Singapore's young fashion industry.

"The question, I think, is: Do Singaporeans want to buy from Singapore designers? It's like you need to be well known somewhere else before they buy. It's the same thing in Russia, in Brazil," she says, noting that the overseas exposure the CFDA's collaboration will provide should help.

Doling out advice and mentoring young designers is part and parcel of her role as CFDA president - a role she has held since 2006. When asked what piece of advice she shares most often, von Furstenberg elaborates on brand identity and self-awareness.

"The most important thing is to be true to yourself and try to figure out, 'What is my identity? Why am I a designer? What makes the brand?' And to make sure it makes sense," says the Belgian-born American in her husky, European-accented English.

The designer, who has the gams of a 25-year-old and a crop of wavy, unruly auburn hair, is living proof of those principles. Since bursting onto the scene in 1970, the Diane von Furstenberg (DVF) brand, with its easy, sexy jersey wrap dresses, has been associated with a feminine yet strong working-woman image.

"I empowered myself with fashion," says von Furstenberg, who used the business to become financially independent after her divorce from Swiss-born Prince Egon von Furstenberg - with whom she had two children - in 1972. She married media executive Barry Diller in 2001.

"While I was empowering myself, I was giving women something to empower themselves.

"I want to tell every single woman she can be the woman she wants to be. As a designer, my role is to give her the tools - accessories, dresses, shoes and bags, that will give her that. My role in fashion is very solution-driven."

That mission has clearly been a success, leading to an unexpectedly long career for the grandmother. She stepped away from the business in the 1980s when the market became saturated with her wrap dresses and returned to fashion in the 1990s.

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