If you had the chance to participate in yesterday’s conference at Bocconi University, not only would you had the unique opportunity to hear Diane Von Furstenberg speak: but you would have gained a lot more. If you ever happen to loose your motivation, revisit this day. Cherish her words, write them down on a scrap of paper and make them your own life motto.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I always knew the woman I wanted to be”. That was the thread of the conversation with the designer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and –as she cheerfully points out- grandmother. Diane started her inspirational talk sitting on the edge of the blackboard and leaning her feet against her chair, making the crowded Aula Manfredini an incredibly comfortable place to be. From there, she gave the audience a surprising life lesson going over the main factors of success in her life.
It’s sometimes hard to go back in the life of people of such calibre. It’s pretty absurd to imagine the influential Diane as a young girl looking for a path to follow between the machineries of an Italian printing plant – but that’s what she did at the age of 21. And without that, she probably wouldn’t be the woman she is now. That’s the first big lesson that we should draw from her experience. Let curiosity keep you alive, take opportunities, always try to learn by what life offers you. For her, this meant taking the opportunity to work for an Italian industrial working in the manufacturing industry or, as she defines it, a “typical Italian driving his Maserati like a maniac”. She never thought that this man would have an impact on her life, but it was thanks to this man that she was able to produce her first jersey samples.
Diane reminded us repeatedly that what moved her was not a definite goal: it was rather a desire for independence, for being that woman that she aspired to be. Her brand became worldwide famous thanks to the iconic wrap dress: easy, beautiful, the friend in a woman’s closet, comfortable, solution-driven, on-the-go, sexy (so that your man’s mother doesn’t mind, as she adds joking). The peculiarity of this dress? It was an accident. This is something that us – the business people- won’t appreciate that much. No business or strategic plans accompanied her success: nothing could equal her determination, creativity, impulsiveness and willingness to be herself. Here’s her second life lesson: as she did, do not be afraid to ask and to act: as Diane’s mother would say, “fear is not an option”. Make the most of the sweetest decade of your life. “This is the juice, you’ll never know which is gonna be your door”. Be able to take on small jobs, be the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave. Your boss will notice. Least but not last, go to the roots. “The more you start with nothing the more chances you have to do better.”
Thanks to this attitude, by the time Diane was 28 she already had two children, a successful business, and she separated from her husband. According to her, everything she did after that was pure reputation.
Diane is going to take some distance from the business. This year, she appointed Paolo Riva as the new CEO of the company. She wishes that DVF will stay connected to the family, but she’s aware that now the challenges are to bring her brand forward with the same success. What she appreciated in the new CEO? Both had a common vision. The designer understood the soul of the brand, its reason to be. That’s also her main piece of advice for brands in this new era of a fashion business “rushing like a tsunami”, and influenced heavily by social media: recognize what your brand is and stick to it.
Aside from business considerations, the most valuable life lesson that Diane Von Furstenberg gave us was of a human nature. Her success in life is the brightest demonstration of her biggest inner accomplishment: the most important relationship in your life must be the one with yourself, and to be yourself in shaping your decisions and your life.
Being Diane is extremely close to this cause, I would like to end this reflection with a last statement dedicated to women. Showing amused her boots, Diane Von Furstenberg stated firmly that women can do something that man cannot do, that is, wearing “cowboy boots”: as she did, you can always lead a man’s life in a woman’s body.
Photography: Luca Andriani