Q&A: Diane von Furstenberg Is Tapping Into Millennial Tastes to Secure Her Brand’s Legacy

Iconic designer takes the global stage

In the world of fashion, there are few figures as legendary as Diane von Furstenberg. While the 68-year-old, Belgian-born designer debuted her namesake brand in 1970, it was four years later that she truly revolutionized the modern woman's wardrobe with the introduction of her now-famous jersey wrap dress. By 1976, she had sold more than a million dresses, introduced fragrances and cosmetics, and landed the cover of Newsweek—all before reaching her third decade.

She eventually sold both her dress design license and beauty line and moved to Paris where she started a publishing company. But von Furstenberg couldn't stay away from designing for long. In 1992, she boldly reentered the fashion business with Silk Assets, a lower-priced separates collection sold exclusively on QVC, the then-6-year-old shopping network in which her husband Barry Diller was an investor. Von Furstenberg's first QVC collection sold out within two hours, and over the course of four years, Silk Assets netted more than $40 million in sales.

The massive success of her partnership with QVC gave von Furstenberg the confidence to relaunch the DVF brand in 1997. This time, her target customers were the daughters of her original patrons—and they proved to be just as crazy about her easy-to-wear designs as the previous generation. Since its rebirth, DVF has expanded into shoes, handbags, jewelry, luggage and home goods, as well as tech accessories. (As a matter of fact, Google Glass made its New York Fashion Week debut on the DVF runway in 2012.)

In addition to growing her retail brand, von Furstenberg has remained a vocal proponent for women's rights (in 2010, she created the DVF Awards, presented annually to female leaders) and the American fashion industry (she has been president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America since 2006), among other causes.

Last year—in addition to publishing a memoir, The Woman I Wanted to Be—von Furstenberg embarked on yet another adventure: reality television. Currently in its second season, House of DVF, airing Sundays at 10 p.m. on the E! network, follows the designer and her team as they search for their next "brand ambassador," doling out life lessons along the way.

Meanwhile, von Furstenberg's company is now entering its own uncharted territory with the arrival of its first CEO, former Tory Burch and Valentino executive Paolo Riva.

Adweek spoke to von Furstenberg about her plans for the future, the challenges of reaching millennial consumers and what it takes to maintain a global fashion empire.

Adweek: Since relaunching your brand in 1997, your distribution has expanded to more than 1,500 points of sale in 55 countries. How do you maintain a successful global brand while staying true to the all-American DVF image?

Diane von Furstenberg: The truth is that I was a brand before we knew what a brand was. I started my company with a dress, and I did not know what I wanted to do, but I knew the woman I wanted to be. I became that woman through that dress, and all of a sudden, I became a brand. Looking back, I was always obsessed with coherence. If everything that you have done reflects the same thing, then you know you're successful in your life. Celebrating freedom, empowering women and inspiring confidence is what I am about as a person and as a brand. So that's one [part of the brand]. The other part is mentoring. I speak to young women's groups and I tell women that you have to be the woman you want to be. That's what I promote. So I guess that how you maintain a global brand is with as much honesty and authenticity, coherence and sincerity as possible.

How do you keep that message consistent when you're speaking to people in so many different countries and cultures?

Recommended articles