Before the ubiquitous wrap dress, before the CFDA lifetime achievement award and the multi-million dollar luxury brand, Diane von Furstenberg was just a newbie designer making sales calls from her living room. OK, she wasn’t just any newbie designer, she was Princess Diane von Furstenberg through her marriage to German Prince Egon von Furstenberg in 1969. The 23-year-old Belgian and her husband had recently moved to New York City, had a baby and quickly became a fixture in the society pages, thanks to her good looks and great fashion sense. But von Furstenberg wasn’t one to rest on her title. When the New York Times profiled the princess on this day in 1970, she was eager to prove herself as a legitimate fashion designer. “In New York,” she said, “everybody works.”
Von Furstenberg began her business with a $30,000 start-up investment and help from a friend in Italy who owned a fabric factory. She worked out of her dining room and home office at New York’s Gotham Hotel, calling store after store to set up appointments to sell her winter collection. (The previous season the then-pregnant designer lugged her spring wares to Saks Fifth Avenue and Best’s in a suitcase.) Royalty or not, she was willing to put in her dues to make it in the industry.
Her career as a designer began the year before, when she designed her own wedding dress created by the House of Dior. The white piqué midi-length dress with rainbow bands of fabric at the waist and hem proved to be an early version of von Furstenberg’s aesthetic. Unlike most royal wedding gowns, hers was comfortable. Comfort, along with a use of colorful prints, quickly become the designer’s signature. “The things I’ve made are the kind women can wear easily any time,” she told the New York Times, indicating that with her $23 to $100 wares she already knew her niche. Von Furstenberg’s collection in 1970 included clingy jersey that would morph into the wrap dresses that would make her famous three years later.
Today, the designer is no longer a princess (the couple divorced some time later), but today Diane von Furstenberg is a bigger household name than that of most royals. Always an outspoken feminist, she wanted to have a career and pursued the fashion industry as soon as she was engaged to be married. “I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts,” she said later. Mission accomplished. —Rachel Chambers
Photos: Top: Neal Boenzi/The New York Times. Bottom: Egon and Diane von Furstenberg on their wedding day in July 1969.