MPW Next Gen 2020: Conversation: The Ultimate Mentorship
Diane von Furstenberg, Fashion Designer, Philanthropist, and Founder and Chairman, Diane von Furstenberg Talita von Furstenberg Interviewer: Claire Zillman, Senior Editor and Co-chair, MPW Next Gen, FORTUNE
iconic fashion designer Diane Von furstenberg is a vocal advocate of mentoring and have been for many years. And Diane's granddaughter, Talita Von furstenberg is following in her footsteps. We're thrilled to have them join us for a conversation on mentoring, empowerment and women supporting women. Diane to lisa, thank you both for being here. Thank you. Thank you so much. I want to get to your your dynamic um sort of in the workplace and the way to work together. But I want to start by talking about um the Dvf business at the moment. Um You've been really public um and open about how the pandemic has um affected the retail business. You all but one of your retail stores, you had to let some employees though, but you say you know the brand will go on and you're working on it reimagining it. I'm wondering if you can start um maybe Diane by just talking about where you are in that process and how how the future R. And D. V. S. Is taking shape, especially now when there are so many unknowns. Well I think that this pandemic that happened to us was completely unexpected but we had no choice but to accept it. So I think that this forced pause is forcing us as individuals to think what our priorities are and think through and maybe change something. And as a business in a weird way it's an opportunity to have the time to check. And we evaluate the business model in their business, in the business like the fashion business where you always work nine months in advance, six months in advance, you always catching up and you never have time to think things through. So in a weird way uh this is forcing us to sing things true and to re evaluate the business model. And so I think it's actually anyway, it is what it is but it's interesting to be able to to to re evaluate it right? And lisa can you can you help us understand sort of that this pause, this reevaluating, I mean what sort of ideas are coming out of it in terms of where the brand can go from here? I think we're constantly figuring out, you know, where fashion is going, the future of fashion, how the industry is changing, how our business is changing, how our business model is changing and kind of figuring that out how to be efficient without everyone working in in an office space. It's really hard, especially in the fashion industry when it's such a handsome thing. You want to be constantly seeing the samples without having everyone together and not even everyone on the time zone. It is really hard to figure out those small things. So we're trying to figure out how to be the most efficient, how to be the most productive how to create an oversight without the space that a studio that our studio in the past has definitely been challenging. But every day we learn how to cope with the new situations, just like everyone is doing, learning how to adjust to the times. And I think with fashion it is much more relevant and much more. And he was studying this, Yeah, I'm at N. Y. U right now studying actually the future of fashion and sustainability fashion. So it's definitely really interesting to be at this actual pivotal moment of change in the industry when no, you know, brick and mortar stores obviously have been dying out in the past, but now it really is, retail is much different, it's all Btc is all online, like there's so much change that happening and I think cbs has to just accept that and evolved with the times as it's changing. I think we're going we're doing that and we've exciting things in the works. But yeah, I mean it's very interesting that she's studying this because had she spread it what she's studying now two years ago it would have been useless but to studying and now is very very interesting. So it is a changing world. I think that the pandemic has accelerated um by at least five years if not 10 years, the virtual world that you know, we are going into this virtual world which is different and um and also the clothes that you need for that world are also exactly, so it's not going into the office space, we don't really need work attire if we're not going out and then we don't need formal attire. What people want to wear has changed. And we also have to adjust product. Two big things like to match that. Exactly because fashion is a reflection of the time. So it's very interesting. You know I mean usually we design according to a calendar. So you know the month JR designed for wedding dresses and graduation dresses and all of a sudden this year there was no graduation and they were very few weddings or they were much smaller. So it is a very interesting time to say to me right to just not have that the seasonality of the business. It has to be such a big change. That's really that's really fascinating. And um Diane you've been so open about this experience. You know you said that there's no shame in admitting that when you're in trouble and that you've talked about owning your vulnerability in this moment. I'm wondering why you decided to be so open about these challenges? Well, you know, I've always been extremely frontal in anything that I experienced. I started to work. I was very very young and I just you know, I just threw myself into it and and it's always through my experiences, I always shared my experience because that's how I learned. For example when I was a little girl in order to study my class, I had to pretend I was a teacher. You know and so I always I always share because it also allows me to understand it to accept it. And of course I've had a long career. So a lot of people and I, you know, I was the head of the C. F. D. A. The council of fashion designers of America for 14 years. So I'm a little, I've been a little bit the mother of fashion for so many years. So if I was having difficulties, I think it's important to share it with other people so that they know that it can happen to everyone if you want to be inspiring. It's not your success, that is inspiring. What is inspiring to other people is the challenges that you had with your success. Sometimes people think you are the very top and you're on the cover of magazines and everything is great, but you yourself know that it may not quite be quite as good and the same time other moment people think, oh it's over and her business is over and that's not true either because you're already on the way back. So I think that for me, sharing everything that I experience has been good for me and it's good for others and there is no shame, right? And so later you have such a first intimate firsthand view of, of um, you know, these challenges and obviously you and your grandmother and get to talk about this on a daily basis. Um, can you just talk about your relationship? And I'm curious sort of when you knew that this, this role that you're, that you're growing into, like when this was sort of, you realize that what you wanted to do and that, you know, carrying on the DVs company and the brand is what you wanted to dedicate your career, at least this part of your career too. I mean, I think it was kind of given since I was five years old, I was playing with the iconic wrap dress. You know, she made me minister wrap dresses. I wore the wrap dresses every day. You know, I've learned about the iconic legacy of the brand. Travel together were extremely, I don't think anyone calls me more than she does. It's, yeah, five calls a day minimum. Um, but I also call you too. We've always been close, we've always had a connection. I've always understood the brand D. N. A. Really well and wanted to be part of such a such an amazing brand. So it's really amazing that I finally, you know, have my foot in the door and really, I'm getting involved, especially now with so much change. I'm really been and he's very glad that she was great. It really was. I am in my home 71 day. She said you're losing your DNA. I mean 11. Yeah. So she's very quickly my kids dream liquid vehicle and I've always given them the space to be critical and they have taken. And uh, but it's, it's um, it's nice because, you know, when your Children, because I call my Children my grandchildren the same. Uh when Children criticize you, it's much more powerful um and and it's much more powerful and I pay attention to their criticism. I definitely did, but also on the flip side, if I give you a compliment and it means even more, Yeah, you don't give me that money. I think we can have, I think we do have one question from the audience coming up at some point, Kristen will join us and she'll share that up. Here she is now, Kristen Living News. Yes, we have a question from the audience. This is coming from Teresa Anderson. Well, Teresa has a comment also, she just says, I have always been a fan of the staple Dvs Wrap dress. Um and her question is for Diane, she says, your brand has been around almost 40 years. How have you managed to keep the brand fresh and relevant from generation to generation? Well, that's first of all, it's more than 40 years, it's 40, that's and uh, and it's very interesting because when I started, I was spending his age and I dress my mother and then I dressed myself and my daughter and my granddaughter. Uh, but it's not, you know, to be relevant is an everyday conversation. And I'm very curious. And so I think curiosity keeps you on your toes to make sure you are relevant and you're not always relevant. But strangely enough, then, you know, because sometimes you have a new management and new Ceo, or new designer and they try and they find it boring and they want to do something cooler or different. And at the end, now that I have a long experience, I can tell you that the hardest thing to do is stay close to your core because you yourself get bored also. But um at the end it's your, cause it's your, it's like if you write a book, it's your first book. I started, I started in a factory. It was a printing factory. I never thought about prince before. I never knew that this would be so important in my life. And and and I keep on making prints. I mean it's, you know, I guess it is who I am. It's uh, but I think it is important to be true to yourself and but also adapt to the time. And I think that what is really important, it's always to think of the woman you dress And basically um you know I've always been the same woman. I was the same woman at 20. I wanted to be a woman who can move and go to plain and cars and airport and ready to go and ready to pack and easy to pack. And those are the clothes that I make. Mhm. I have to think it would be harder to keep in touch with with those women now because of you know the pandemic and we're just not interacting as much. So um it seems like a the woman, so the woman, the woman in charge, you know who wants to own her life, wants to be in charge of what she was doing, her work, her family, whatever it charged. So that woman still exists today whether or not getting on the plane and going from the airport, it's more of a personality that that's weird probably after a close confident and easy, whatever you easy if you wear clothes, clothes don't wear you. You know, it's the personality of you. So you make clothes, we try to make clothes that are flattering the fabric is off. It's pretty, it's stay pure. You know, it helps you shape, it's all the old fashioned secrets of fashioned, you know, old fashioned dress making little details you don't see, but they make your body look better. Yeah, definitely. Timeless. Well, thank you both.