Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest Personal Brand of the Month goes to…
Diane von Furstenberg
Earlier this month, I received an invite to a shopping event that piqued my interest: TVF for DVF. Once I decoded the initials, I discovered it was a pop up of Talita von Furstenberg’s collection at the Diane von Furstenberg London Flagship store. Talita is the granddaughter of von Furstenberg. It appears that our legendary brand has a legacy co-brand!
I find von Furstenberg’s brand fascinating on many levels. But this new dimension of her brand introduces an interesting concept, one around creating sustainability around a brand, in both the label and the person.
Here’s what jumps out at me with von Furstenberg’s personal brand and sustainability:
Fresh and forward thinking
What better way to express your beliefs and personal values than to get visual about them? Von Furstenberg shows us just how masterful she is at this. Since founding her fashion house in 1972, von Furstenberg has come to represent the forward-thinking, modern woman, showing us she’s ahead of the curve, with her progressiveness reflected in her designs.
Her iconic wrap dress of course comes to mind. As she explains, “it’s more than just a dress; it’s a spirit.” Given its wide-reaching appeal, the wrap dress came to be seen as a symbol of women’s liberation in the Seventies, and her distinct design is still going strong today. “I created a sustainable dress 40 years ago,” she says of her dress in a recent Evening Standard interview. “It is being sold in vintage shops for more now than it was then.”
She continues to bring fresh ideas promoting sustainability and eco-forwardness into her brand. There are “scrap wrap” dresses, created from the leftover material from wrap dresses. A reversible wrap dress will be launched next spring, “so you can have two dresses in one”, and even a rental service for her dresses. She has also brought eco-friendly practices into her factories, including solar panels and recycled water, the use of more sustainable fabrics and ecological dyeing and printing techniques.
Vision and determination
Firmly at the foundation of her personal brand are her vision and determination, which can be summarized with the motto “in charge”.
“When I was young I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be — I wanted to be a woman in charge,” she shared. “Meaning I could pay my bills, I could choose who I go out with.” She didn’t chose badly in fact, by marrying her first husband, the German Prince Egon von Furstenberg. While this officially made her a Princess, the lifestyle she chose was far from Princess-like. She continued to desire a life of independence, one that launched her career. “The minute I knew I was about to be Egon’s wife, I decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts,” she explained to the New York Times in 1977. Divorcing 14 years later, she kept the regal surname.
Getting her voice heard
Another effective strategy in sustaining your personal brand is by sharing your voice, such as by writing a manifesto, autobiography or memoirs. Von Furstenberg has several out there already, and most recently, she wrote her “in charge” manifesto, in which she shares some of her philosophies to live by.
– Commit to yourself. “Before anything else, being in charge is a commitment to yourself, it’s owning who you are,”
– Connect and use your position to help others. “The more you use your magic wand, the more strong and the more powerful your wand is”.
– Believe in vulnerability and show hints of humanness. “Talk about your vulnerability. Talk about your failures. Talk about your insecurity and you will help other people.”
Putting words into actions
This philosophy deserves its own point, given how strongly social responsibility is correlated with effective personal branding. Von Fursenberg believes that we need to pick and choose causes that we believe in and fight for them.
She and her husband founded the Diller-Von Furstenberg Family Foundation, a private family foundation which provides philanthropic support to various non-profit organisations. She launched the DVF Awards in 2010, a scheme supported by their foundation which recognises women whose leadership and vision has positively impacted women around the world. She and her husband are also prominent supporters of the US Democratic Party.
Von Furstenberg appears in, and served as executive producer on, a newly released HBO documentary, Liberty: Mother of Exiles, telling the story of her fundraising efforts for a new museum on Liberty Island. The documentary that takes on particular significance in an era of anti-immigration. “I’m an immigrant, my parents were immigrants [her mother was a Holocaust survivor], this country is built on immigrants, and there will be a switch,” she explains. “You wonder when, but there will be a switch — there’s always a pendulum.”
Careful positioning of successors
As a likely successor, Talita shares the same passion and progressive thinking her grandmother has embraced for decades, and there’s little doubt that von Furstenberg has shaped and inspired her. In her interview with the Evening Standard, von Furstenberg explains that Talita is taking “highly relevant, forward-thinking classes” in fashion business at NYU. “She’s learning about the new luxury, about social entrepreneurship, about sustainability.” In other words, she fits the DVF bill.
But von Furstenberg also shows us that you don’t have to turn to family for a legacy. At 72, she just stepped down from her 13-year tenure as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). This was a decision she did not take lightly…or quickly. “I’d been wanting to leave for a while,” she explained. “But I had to find a replacement and I wanted the replacement to be an upgrade.” Her upgrade was Tom Ford, clearly already an established fashion brand legend. She shares, “I was the mother of the CFDA, and he is the statesman. He has a real presence, and he’s much more demanding than I am.” Now that’s some careful selectivity!
And that’s the progressive personal brand of Diane von Furstenberg in a nutshell. What a stunning example of “walk the walk, talk the talk…and wear the frock!”. And long may she (and her name) live.