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  • Trish Kennedy-Howe

Diane and Me

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

I have always admired the legendary fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. She established a fashion empire entirely from scratch which has grown to be (with a few stumbles in the road) extremely successful. She used her instincts and talent and accomplished it all on her own. (Okay, her father lent her seed money, but it was her brains and perseverance that made her business a success.) She had invented a little jersey wrap dress that was so comfortable and easy to wear and was flattering to almost every figure type. The dress wrapped around the body and tied at the waist, and the prints were fun and contemporary. Later, with excessive expansion and loss of control, her business declined. Sales fell with the changing times and other trends came to the surface, but after a few years she managed to bounce back. She reinvented her signature dress, produced other more contemporary clothing, and is now the doyenne of American fashion. And – lucky me! I had the privilege of working with her for a time in the late seventies when her company was flourishing.

I had been a designer at WallTex for only a few years, and I was still very young. I could not believe it when the design director told me I was going to be the one to be sent to New York to work with Diane. DVF was in the midst of diversifying. The company was franchising their name to other products, and wallcovering was going to be one of them. In retrospect, it was not such a good idea, but at the time, everyone at WallTex was very excited about the prospect of a DVF wallcovering book. I was dispatched as the liaison to help Diane (me - help HER!) to select which of her dress prints would be saleable as wallcovering.

I forget which Manhattan office building I went to, but I remember it was impressive. However, the DVF offices behind the glass monogramed doors of the eighth floor, were surprising and not quite as impressive as I thought they would be. Despite the glamor of the operation, the office was very spare. Cubicles were separated by hanging canvas and desks were rather makeshift, creating the look of a shoestring startup. I was directed to sit at a small table and chairs which would have looked at home on my parents’ patio. Diane swept in about an hour later, elegantly clad in a wrap dress and a gorgeous sable coat. She shrugged gracefully out of the fur and would have let it drop, but one of her staff rushed to catch it before it fell to the floor. I was suddenly overwhelmed with the scent of a powerful perfume which permeated the air around Diane. I later found out that it was her signature fragrance called “Tatiana”, named for her daughter. When I told one of her staff how much I admired the scent, I was immediately presented with a 12-inch cut glass bottle of “Tatiana”. I loved that fragrance so much. I dotted it beneath my nostrils that night at my hotel before I went to sleep so I could fall into slumber reliving the glamor of the day. Please remember – I was young, I was from the Midwest, and I didn’t have much experience in life or business. However, I was somehow able to disguise all that (I think) with an assumed air of sophistication. I don’t know if Diane knew it was all bravado or not, but she treated me with the utmost respect and gravitas, almost as if I was a seasoned fashionista. (By the way, her staff used the more elegant Dee-ahn to pronounce her name.)

Dee-ahn and I worked together for several days creating a wallcovering line, and then – wonder of wonders – she invited me to a cocktail party at her apartment, along with some of her other business associates. Every woman there was so glamorous – six feet tall (or so it seemed), dressed elegantly in slinky black with simple but chic jewelry and $200 haircuts. (Actually, since it was New York, they were probably $600 haircuts.) Of course, I felt like I had Ohio written on my forehead, but I managed not to embarrass myself. Diane’s blond mother, Lily, was there. She was lovely and gracious. I remember there was a concentration camp number tattooed on her wrist, which was both fascinating and saddening to me. At one point, I wanted to visit the powder room, or maybe I just pretended I wanted to – I forget. I know I wanted to walk down the black walled hallway of her apartment and peer into the other rooms. I took a quick look at her bedroom, which was quite opulent and European, also with black walls. There was a rose patterned duvet on her enormous bed, and heavy dark draperies. I can still picture it.

To this day, one of my favorite memories of working with Diane is having the feeling, however temporary, that I was part of the excitement and hustle of New York City and the glamorous glitterati. Diane and her partner, Barry Diller, were regulars at Studio 54 and partied with the likes of Cher and Mick Jagger and Margaret Trudeau. The whole thing was an experience that I will look back on with amusement, awe, and great pleasure.

Oh – and one more thing. I was given the perk of purchasing several of the original DVF wrap dresses at a huge discount. However, I’m very sad to say that I didn’t have the foresight to wrap them in tissue and put them in cold storage. Instead, I wore them until they were threadbare, but – you know, I had a wonderful time doing it.

Diane von Furstenberg

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