In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the wrap dress, Diane von Furstenberg has embarked on a slew of initiatives to recognize the iconic dress that planted her on the fashion map.
Inspired by The New York Times crossword puzzle, where von Furstenberg’s name was featured as a clue in March 2023, she has developed a special-edition print in honor of the anniversary. David Kwong, the crossword puzzle’s creator, worked with von Furstenberg to create a custom crossword. The print has been transposed onto a silk scarf that will be available online and in store on Thursday and retails for $258.
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The exclusive capsule includes 16 silhouettes, six of which are updates of classic wrap jersey dresses. These pieces showcase three prints for spring ’24, one of which is a different crossword dress spelling out different DVF mantras such as “truth,” “dare,” “freedom,” “attitude,” “in charge,” and “love.” That crossword print, created in-house, is available on two wrap dresses, a one-shoulder dress, a jumpsuit, two wrap tops, and a pair of trousers.
The other nine styles bring back the iconic Python print. Four reversible mesh pieces in a fresh green Python can be reversed into a combination of heritage prints and five styles that showcase Python in a neutral brown, including two mesh dresses that can be reversed into a combination of heritage prints as well. Price points for the 50-Year capsule range from $238 to $800.
The capsule will be sold at global DVF boutiques in Belgium, Greece, Thailand, Azerbaijian, Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as at Net-a-porter, La Rinascente, 24 Sevres, Harvey Nichols and Nordstrom.
In a telephone interview with von Furstenberg from her home in Venice, she said that for the last few years she has been staying under the radar and strategizing the next chapter for the company.
“Three years ago when COVID came, and I shrunk everything, and my Chinese distributor took care of the operations, I needed time to think. What is this brand? I took an inventory. You always have to take inventories of your life, and I realized that the brand has very unique assets. It has a dress that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary. I don’t think it’s happened to a dress before,” said the 77-year-old von Furstenberg.
She said if you go to vintage shops, you’ll see these dresses have had three lives and they still hold up. “There’s a vocabulary and a huge archive. As I was pausing and thinking on all of this, there was this birthday coming up. So I said, ‘OK, we’ll celebrate the past.’ And while you’re celebrating the past, you’re preparing the future.”
Asked how involved she remains in the business, she said, “Right now it needs to be assessed, and since I’m still alive I’m basically putting all the codes together so that it stands for something. Everything has changed so much, there’s an opportunity to design a new definition.”
Von Furstenberg said she has no plans to sell the company, and that the brand still has a lot of values. “What I tell individuals is ‘be true to yourself.’ That is what you have to be, even as a brand. Be true to yourself, make a vocabulary. I don’t mind saying that I say I do uniforms,” she said.
She said in the fall, she’ll be ready to talk more concretely about the company’s plans for 2025.
The wrap dress, which DVF created in 1974 and at that time sold for $80, has had generational staying power and a timeless style. It has made continuous comebacks over the past five decades. In fact, in the ’90s, DVF saw a revival when a younger generation of women began discovering wrap dresses in vintage stores. Today, through rewrap.com, DVF’s new preloved marketplace, the wrap dress has found a place with Gen Z’s home-sewing, vintage-loving audience.
Why does she feel that the wrap dress has been able to remain relevant for 50 years?
“Because it deals with a woman’s body,” said von Furstenberg. “What makes a woman beautiful? The eye contact, the smile and the body language. It’s all about body language. Fabric is first. The quality of the fabric. The wrap is 100 percent silk jersey. It [the fabric] may not look like anything, but it’s top-top quality. And it’s indestructible. Talk about sustainability. Then you deal with color and then you deal with prints. I started in the ’70s. The ’70s are like the ’30s: they don’t go out of style,” she said.
Coinciding with the 50-year celebration is a collaboration with Vogue Patterns, which reissued the original wrap dress sewing patterns on Jan. 25 with a second issue that will come out in May. These will be available on Simplicity.com in May. Further, a DVF x L.G.R. sunglass collection will be released at L.G.R. boutiques and on DVF.com for the special occasion.
“We’re excited to introduce today’s sewists to the enduring style of Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress,” said Abbie Small, executive vice president and category general manager, patterns, at Simplicity. “Since making history as one of the top-selling designs by Vogue Patterns 50 years ago, the wrap dress has continued to stand the test of time.”
The idea for the wrap dress started in Italy. As WWD reported in a story last year, von Furstenberg was working as an intern at Manufactura Ferretti in Como, Italy, where she learned everything about printing from the owner, Angelo Ferretti. Next door, there was a factory that made stockings. With the advent of pantyhose, that factory went bankrupt and was sold to Ferretti. It had tubular knitting machines and they experimented using thicker yarns, and that’s how they invented the jersey.
They started to make T-shirts and printed them, and went into polo shirts and shirtdresses. Von Furstenberg said she came to the U.S. to visit her then-boyfriend Egon von Furstenberg, and met Giorgio di Sant’Angelo and Stephen Burrows, who designed clothes using jersey.
“When I went back [to Italy], all I could think about was ‘how do I go back to America?’ When I arrived at the factory, all of a sudden, this factory in the middle of nowhere, I thought, ‘Here’s an opportunity,’ and this is what I decided to do. That’s when I started to make my first little dresses,” von Furstenberg recalled.
It all began with a wrap top that was inspired by the little wrap sweaters that ballerinas wore over their tutus. [In fact, the original ensemble of a wrap top and trousers is currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art]. First it worked with a skirt, and then a pant, “and then I turned it into a dress,” said von Furstenberg last week. “Then it became crazy. At 27, I was making 25,000 wrap dresses a week.”
By 1976, one million dresses had sold, and von Furstenberg was featured on the cover of Newsweek. “And then of course, you saturate the market, somehow it never totally died, and it’s timeless,” she said.
Over the decades the wrap dress has accumulated a celebrity following. In the ’70s, it was modeled by the likes of Patti Hansen, Janice Dickinson and Lisa Taylor, and worn by Cybill Shepherd in “Taxi Driver.” After the designer revived the style, a whole new generation discovered it, including Paris and Nicky Hilton, Amy Winehouse and Michelle Obama, who wore a black-and-white design for the Obamas’ first Christmas card from the White House, as well as an encounter with Kermit the Frog. Madonna wore a green and white version for a “Spirituality for Kids” event in Tel Aviv in 2004, and Ingrid Betancourt, after six years held captive by revolutionaries in Colombia, made the wrap her first fashion purchase. In addition, actresses such as Amy Adams wore the dress in “American Hustle,” and Penelope Cruz in “Broken Embraces.”
Asked if she has any prints that are her favorites, von Furstenberg said, “The two things that inspire me are women and nature. What is the secret about that dress? First of all, it’s jersey. I always remember Christian Lacroix said, ‘Men design to make costumes. Women design to make clothes,’ …All the women designers use jersey — Norma Kamali, Donna Karan, and Madame Gres — because of the comfort,” she said.
“You wrap it around your body and the prints mold your body, and all of a sudden your body language wakes up,” she said. She said the dress appeals to both the boyfriend and his mother. It’s proper, but sexy.
When she was growing up, von Furstenberg said she didn’t know what she wanted to be, but knew she wanted to be in charge. “Yes, I created the dress, but really truly the dress created me. The more confident I was, the more confident I would make other women. It became a conversation, and it became a relationship,” she said. “That dress is the symbol of it all.”
Asked what were the most successful prints that she’s ever done, she said, “The animal prints always work, and the lynx prints, and then the twig, and then you change the scale. At the end, it’s all very mysterious. Every time you get a new creative director they want to change everything, but then in the end you have to be true to yourself.”
Capping off the year for DVF will be the release of a full-length documentary, via Hulu/Disney, tentatively scheduled for June, and directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
“I’m only the subject. I have not seen it. It’s actually quite nice to be the subject,” said von Furstenberg.
Von Furstenberg said she didn’t have final say into anything that went in the documentary. Asked what the thrust of the movie is — Is it running a fashion business? Her philanthropy? Her DVF Awards? — she said, “I have no idea. I’m only the subject. And I love being only the subject. It’s not a marketing tool.” She noted that Obaid-Chinoy interviewed many people for the movie.
“The thing that I hope is that it will give strength and courage for women. If I have any goals at all, it’s to open doors for women,” she said. “It’s a great story. You build a business on your own and you never have an investor. It’s a lot of things together. You go up and you go down, but the one thing I was always, was honest. I owned it. When I was having difficulties, I was honest.”
Right now the brand only has one store in the U.S., in the Meatpacking District, and sells online. She has 58 stores in China, along with stores in Thailand, Belgium, Greece and Azerbaijan. She has no product licenses. “But it has to be right,” said von Furstenberg.
Asked what she considers the peak of the brand, she said, “At the beginning, that was incredible, I licensed it to Puritan, I built a cosmetics business and sold that for an enormous amount of money, and started again in the late 1990s. What survived all the time was the relationship with women, that’s also what the brand means. I honor women. That dress does that.”
It’s been a busy year so far for von Furstenberg, who spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. She and Obaid-Chinoy spoke about leadership and learning. In addition, von Furstenberg will host their annual International Women’s Day celebrations on March 1 and March 2, which will include panel discussions, mentoring sessions and a group walk along the High Line.
DVF will also host the 15th anniversary of the DVF Awards in August in Venice.
All these activities follow last year’s exhibition in Brussels, “Women Before Fashion,” which was dedicated to the life and work of the designer and was curated by Nicolas Lor. It ran from April 2023 to January 2024. It was accompanied by a book of the same name by Lor, which chronicles the designer’s life and work and was published by Rizzoli.
Launch Gallery: Diane von Furstenberg Through the Years
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