Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge

Diane von Furstenberg

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Diane von Furstenberg: “God rescued me to give you life,” this was said by a survivor of the concentration camp, Liliane Halfin to her daughter, Diane Simone Michelle. Lily’s weight after coming out of Auschwitz was only 49 pounds which is why it was startling when she gave birth eleven months later to a girl that grew up to change fashion and its attendant business models forever. However, the documentary about the designer’s life “Diane von Fürstenberg: Woman in Charge” now showing on Hulu, despite displaying the glitz, glamour and struggle around does not delve into more problematic aspects of Diane’s life but skates over them with girlboss-ness. It is light and entertaining for sure but at its core feels like nothing more than a 97-minute commercial for wrap dresses.

The filmmakers must have been thrilled by von Fürstenburg’s meticulous collection of photographs, home movies and press clippings that she has maintained throughout her life. Happy montages include childhood birthday parties, family holidays and teenage boarding school years. There are Polaroids upon Polaroids of Diane growing up in Brussels then becoming young adult in London who will meet Prince Egon von Fürstenburg an Austrian aristocrat while they were both still at college.

Their lives as jet-setting couple partying in Cortina, Rome and Paris can be traced breathlessly through newspaper archives featuring photos of the couple walking hand in hand dressed up to their eyeballs. Diane von Furstenberg She took up various odd jobs before realizing she was pregnant. They got married; however, the response from royals wasn’t positive given they could not bear seeing their son marry a Jewess making them only attend ceremony and skip reception. On visiting her new husband’s family castle Diane had to stomach horrible statements made about her which demoralized her deeply.”I don’t remember what was said,’ Diane recounts ‘but I do remember my conversation with my unborn child.’ We’ll show them,’ I said. ‘We’ll show them.”

Egon did something to earn a living but what it was is never explained (Wikipedia suggests fashion and finance). He even pushed her to bring her suitcase full of samples she had made, such as T-shirts and scarves. With the guidance of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, Diane started her own fashion house. Julie Nixon’s defense of her father on television while wearing a matching wrap top and skirt from Diane served as an inspiration to the designer who then came up with the idea of making a wrap dress. Diane von Furstenberg At that time Gloria Steinem led the protests in the streets where women were not allowed to possess either bank accounts or credit cards except approved by their male relatives yet this dress marketed as female power sold so well until it flooded the market.

After divorcing Egon—who was openly bisexual and had many affairs—Diane ran into business problems throughout the 1980s, losing overnight fortunes in millions which she later relaunched at QVC. (Financial assistance/advice from second husband Barry Diller likely helped too.) Sales skyrocketed again when another generation of women began wearing the wrap dress including Paris Hilton, Michelle Obama and Amy Winehouse. Though not exactly a retiree, Diane now focuses on her nonprofit advocacy work for changing women’s lives.

There is little exploration of some matters fleetingly touched upon by the designer’s children, Irish twins Alexander and Tatiana. Their mother was so consumed with her new successful business, and the night life that goes along with it in New York City during 1970s and early 1980s, that she says in her own words she hardly had time for them.

In fact, Tatiana implied “neglect” when she was young but there was a letter written by her in primary school handwriting which Diane kept hanged on a notice board but did not get its meaning where it says “You know nothing about my life.” But ironically enough, von Furstenberg’s developed responsibility for the care of her children made Lily to be their full-time caregiver; thus, this caused a situation which seems not different from a child such as Dianne herself who had to live for mother’s sake.

At the start of the movie however, she discloses thoughts of being concerned about her mother’s well-being from early childhood: “I was never a child. I was always a grown-up.” At an early age as well,Tatiana and Alexander were taught how to travel alone or cook food hence they would have dinner at the same table with their mother while quickly kissing her good morning before going out for classes since she usually stays in bed with someone else. More so, nobody knew that Tatiana had been born with neuromuscular disorder through absence of Diane and Egon as well as parenting attitudes prevalent at that time until when after 21 years old he went to doctor himself. This is something Diane deeply regrets and even Tatiana admits that later attempts by his mother to bond again were “too little too late.”

The next issue is why only these journalists are interviewed despite having profiled Diane extensively throughout her whole lifetime but none seeks to ask any questions regarding what was portrayed controversially by Diane in those articles either? For example, there was a part of the film showing a 1973 New York Magazine article on the von Fürstenburgs’ marriage that read as follows: “Homosexuality is a kind of narcissism. It’s a big bore.” In it she went into insults about lesbians.

One may also wonder why Diane hung out with war criminal and monster Henry Kissinger, or why she made insensitive comments about fat women leave alone trying to turn the Meatpacking District into DVF’s home base and enriching it with a bunch of overpriced medio-cre eateries in place of the previous queer/trans sex worker safe haven. (This transformation was depicted on “Sex and the City” in what can only be described as deeply trans-phobic terms when Samantha moves to her MePa loft.)

“Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge” shies away from controversy, depth, or nuance. Apart from close friend Fran Lebowitz and colleague Gigi Williams, there is not much substance added by any of these interviews for the narrative purposes. Her accomplishments are glorified by Oprah Winfrey and Hilary Clinton; this woman who is paid homage by fashion critics Vanessa Friedman (New York Times), Marc Jacobs, Christian Louboutin among others have nothing negative to say about her either. It may be understandable but hardly makes for gripping cinema. Indeed, according to her own words Diane von Fürstenburg led “the life of a man in a woman’s body.”

Does this necessarily imply that she is immune to any criticism, or does it mean that other aspects of her life can be more deeply investigated? It ends with a long ode to Diane’s life and women’s rights but does not acknowledge those who were excluded, abandoned or overlooked in her reign.

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