Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Diane von Furstenberg remembers Imelda and Manila

Yes, the famed designer of the wrap dress recounts in an interview: She met the former First Lady, was a guest in Malacañang, and visited the set of ‘Apocalypse Now’

Diane von Furstenberg
The poster of the DVF movie on Hulu

AT 77, designer, fashion icon, party fixture, and former real-life princess (from her marriage to German playboy Prince Egon von Furstenberg) Diane von Furstenberg—known by her brand name initials, DVF—has lived the most colorful of lives. It’s a life chronicled in the recently released Hulu documentary Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge, directed by Trish Dalton and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.

It’s been a life filled with adventures and choices for this daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, who went on to design the iconic wrap dress. A review on rogerebert.com states that the movie “goes out of its way to avoid controversy, depth, or nuance.” However, a recent interview in The New Yorker by Michael Schulman, published 23 June 2024, titled Diane von Furstenberg will see you now, includes a number of probing questions and candid answers from DVF illuminating certain episodes in her life—including a meeting with Imelda Marcos, and a visit to the Philippines where she was welcomed by no less than Glecy Tantoco of Rustan’s.

Schulman asks his interviewee about one weekend in the 1970s when von Furstenberg and her then boyfriend (now husband), movie executive Barry Diller, were in Hong Kong, and, as recounted in an earlier interview, “they decided to call up Imelda Marcos, whom they’d met in New York, and visit her in the Philippines.”

“Oh, that’s true,” DVF says. “When you read it, it sounds so ridiculous. I’m so embarrassed!” The couple look at a map “and see that the Philippines is not so far. I had met Mrs. Marcos, because (Andy) Warhol called me one day and said, ‘I would like you to come to Trader Vic’s to have dinner with Mrs. Marcos.’…So we had dinner with Mrs. Marcos, and she goes, ‘You must come to the Philippines.’”

After making an impulsive call through the hotel to the First Lady of the Philippines, “I get a call from Mrs. (Gliceria Rustia) Tantoco, who owned department stores,” DVF recounts. “She happened to be Mrs. Marcos’ friend, and also she had my dresses in her stores. She said, ‘Mrs. Marcos is not going to be there this weekend, because she’s going to see (Muammar) Qaddafi’—she was having problems with the Muslims in the Philippines. But she said, ‘You can stay in the guest house in the palace.’”

While there, when the couple learned Francis Ford Coppola was shooting Apocalypse Now in the mountains, “Barry, who was at the time at Paramount, said, ‘Hey, let’s see Francis!’ So they give us this helicopter, and we arrive in the middle of the Vietnam War.”

Yet, when Schulman counters, “I can see the commonalities. You and Imelda Marcos both have a certain extravagance. You’ve both been with very powerful men…,” DVF seems almost curt in her reply: “I only saw her once. I never saw her again.”

The interview is full of juicy accounts straight from the horse’s mouth. DVF remembers arriving in New York with her husband Prince Egon and becoming the “Very It Couple. He was the It Person. People were very jealous that I married him. You can imagine: a young, beautiful, handsome prince, arriving in New York. All the girls wanted to marry him. And this little Jewish girl—why her?” Yet, she notes, she never called herself a princess: “I never used the title.”

Schulman asks about her account in the film of when she actually turned down a threesome with David Bowie and Mick Jagger: “What went through your mind?” “Mick and David always competed with each other,” DVF reveals. “… I mean, it’s very flattering. Mick Jagger and David Bowie, at their prime. The whole thing was a joke. But I was thinking, Oh, that would be a really fun thing to tell my grandchildren. And then nothing happened. It became an even better story to say that I didn’t do it.”

On her days frequenting Studio 54, the club to be in the ‘70s: “First of all, I was not one of these people who stayed there all night. I lived at home with my children and my mother. What I liked was to drive my own car, arrive, meet friends there.” She admits, though, “It was a great pickup place. I never did drugs in the basement or anything like that.”

Diane von Furstenberg

Photo of Andy Warhol and Imelda Marcos by Ron Galella, reprinted from townandcountrymag.com

On Andy Warhol: “No matter where you went, he was there. He was a pillar of New York at night. Andy went around with a tape recorder. He was taking pictures of you, he was taping you. He didn’t speak much. He was a spectator, not an actor.”

On Donald Trump: “I always snubbed him. Always avoided him. Never had a conversation. I left New York because people like Donald Trump had arrived.”

There are also many insights from this beauty who famously said, “Just because a woman’s smart doesn’t mean she has to look like a truck driver.” “Did you feel like you were accepted by the feminist movement at the time?? Schulman asks. “I don’t know. I never asked them. I don’t think I’ve ever asked myself if I was accepted anywhere, actually. I don’t care about being accepted. I’m a feminist, that’s all that matters. And my dress became a symbol of liberation.”

That dress, incidentally, turns 50 years old this year. “It’s true, I created the wrap dress. But also, the wrap dress created me. It’s a combination of the fabric and the body language and the prints and the movements and da da da. And they’re indestructible.”

DVF talks about resisting offers to sell her company, dreaming instead of entrusting it to the next generation.It’s all about what you’re leaving behind. I like to leave things nicely. I created a brand, and it lasted for a long time. I would like to put it in the best hands I can.”

After all, despite enjoying the good things in life, DVF never quite forgot where she came from, remembering her own speech when she was being honored in the 1980s by the Anti-Defamation League, a US-based non-government organization which fights anti-semitism. “You all know me because of my wrap dress,” she told the audience. “But what you don’t know is that, 18 months before I was born, my mother was 49 pounds, in Auschwitz.”

“This was a major turning point in my life,” says the divine DVF, “because I realized it was my responsibility to talk about that.”


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