A genuine fashion icon

A genuine fashion icon
Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg greets the audience after showcasing her Fall 2015 collection at the Singapore Fashion Week on May 13, 2015.

Last month, when it was determined that I would interview designer Diane von Furstenberg during her visit here for Singapore Fashion Week, I started reading up on the icon who single-handedly added the famous wrap dress to the fashion vocabulary.

The memoir she published last October, titled The Woman I Wanted To Be, was a perfect place to start. Before reading that, I knew the basic facts - she was a former European princess turned entrepreneur, and the creator of the wrap dress.

I also knew she was the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), working in tandem with CFDA chief executive Steven Kolb and industry titans, such as American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, to fight for and further the American fashion industry.

The book paints a vivid picture, not only of von Furstenberg's fashion career but also of her childhood, her family, her many lovers and crises, both business and personal.

It includes incredibly memorable excerpts and moments. For example, the heartbreaking letter von Furstenberg's mother Lily scribbled as a young woman to her parents as she was led away to the Auschwitz death camp during the Holocaust.

There was also the supportive telegram the designer received from her boyfriend at the time, Prince Egon von Furstenberg, when she unexpectedly found out she was pregnant and wondered what she should do.

The book covers everything from her bout with cancer and radiation, to the ups and downs of the business and the people she had to work with.

As I personally never lived through the 1970s, I didn't realise, for instance, that the brand had once closed down before it was revived in the 1990s. The DVF brand has just felt - perhaps strategically so - like a brand that has always been around.

Earlier this week, when I finally met the designer, I expressed how I found her candid voice in her memoirs compelling.

She looked at me, quite matter of factly, and said: "The whole point, if you're going to write about your experience, is to inspire.

"You inspire only if you're genuine, if you tell people if it was hard."

These days, people and brands are so controlling of their images, and we're constantly filtering everything to make our lives look better than it is. There's something to be said for being unabashedly honest.

Those cracks behind a perfect facade can be the most endearingly human, inspiring parts of the story.

llim@sph.com.sg

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