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Gioia Diliberto’s absorbing biography of wholesale halloween costumes Diane von Furstenberg is laced with richly detailed anecdotes about the highly competitive fashion industry. One of the most fascinating stories in “Diane von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped” recounts the celebrated designer’s inspiration for the jersey wrap dress on whose shoulders she built her empire. The story involves Richard Nixon’s daughter.
Diliberto describes Halloween Costumes Outlet a day in 1973 when von Furstenberg saw “an image that changed her life.” Julie Nixon Eisenhower was on television defending her father during the Watergate scandal. Eisenhower was wearing a von Furstenberg wrap top and an A-line skirt. Von Furstenberg marveled at how Eisenhower looked “confident and forceful” and how the top’s “snug fit and V neck enhanced Julie’s curves without being too provocative.” It was then, von Furstenberg recalls, she had an idea: “If a simple little top could do so much for a woman, what if she extended it to the knees and turned it into a dress?”
It was a fashion-forward moment of genius. “The wrap hit America like a tsunami in matte jersey,” Diliberto writes. “Thousands of woman of all ages, sizes, occupations, and ethnicities bought the dress. You couldn’t enter a restaurant or walk down an avenue or go to a PTA meeting anywhere in America without seeing a flattering ‘Diane’ dress in bold, printed jersey.”
In her memoirs, “Diane: A Signature Life” released in 1998 and “The Woman I Wanted to Be,” published last fall, von Furstenberg recounts much of what can be found in Diliberto’s authorized biography. “A Life Unwrapped” adds to the “DVF” canon by wrapping the history of von Furstenberg’s spectacular career and often scandalous personal life in a cultural and feminist context.
Diliberto makes the case, and rightly so, that the societal and political stars that came into alignment in the mid-20th century contributed in no small way to the success of von Furstenberg’s little wrap dress. Her emergence as a designer who understood what women wanted was taking place “at the height of an American sportswear revolution.” She, Calvin Klein, Halston and others saw feminism sweeping the country, and they were redefining fashion for what Diliberto calls “the active life of a modern woman, creating light, easy clothes that were true to the contours and movement of the body.”
Kevin NanceThe word “slut” exists in a no-man’s-land of polite conversation in current-day America. You can say the word without being branded a sexist, but only in certain highly sophisticated contexts. Use it too loosely, or flippantly, or worst of all without implicitly criticizing its original meaning,…
The word “slut” exists in a no-man’s-land of polite conversation in current-day America. You can say the word without being branded a sexist, but only in certain highly sophisticated contexts. Use it too loosely, or flippantly, or worst of all without implicitly criticizing its original meaning,…
The wrap dress fit into that paradigm, Diliberto writes, but it also fulfilled von Furstenberg’s vision of “the true purpose of fashion — to enhance a woman’s natural allure” and build her confidence. The dress, available in dozens of prints — floral, geometric and animal — was “designed with women’s bodies in mind — she knew how she wanted to look and how her style would appeal to others. The nation’s women repaid her by anointing her a celebrity, the most bankable female designer since Coco Chanel.”
MCV / TribuneA gingham dress from Diane von Furstenberg.A gingham dress from Diane von Furstenberg. The history of the dress that would become a staple in millions of women’s wardrobes — at one point in the 1970s von Furstenberg was selling 25,000 wrap dresses a week — is just part of the story Diliberto tells. Equally fascinating is the story of the dress’ glamorous designer. Von Furstenberg is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor; was the wife of a wealthy prince, Egon von Furstenberg; and a jet-setter who took numerous lovers, male and female, including Omar Sharif and Richard Gere. Von Furstenberg shares stories about her enduring marriage to media mogul Barry Diller as well as the disastrous business decisions that nearly toppled her business a handful of times.
Diliberto, a Chicago resident whose works include “Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife” and “A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Addams,” is the consummate reporter. “A Life Unwrapped” is based on past articles written about her subject — Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue, for instance, carefully documented von Furstenberg’s career — as well as dozens of interviews with von Furstenberg’s friends, family members and fashion industry insiders. The densely packed notes and index at the end of the book encompass 38 pages. And in the book’s acknowledgments, she thanks von Furstenberg for hours of interviews as well as the diary entries, photos and letters she shared.
“A Life Unwrapped” is an all-access pass into the life of this enterprising artist from the time in her 20s when she recalls “I was racked with insecurity. I had no identity of my own. No one really knew who I was, not even me,” to the present day when von Furstenberg, now 68, revels in her self-confidence and success.
“Who else has done a dress that’s been popular for so long?” she says in the book. “People think that the wrap dress was an accident or just plain luck. What they don’t realize is how I took my frustrations and aspirations, transformed them into a positive force, and poured it all into that little dress.”