Hyderabad: In her first family photograph after moving into the White House as first lady, Michelle Obama wore a striking bold-printed “wrap dress". Belgian-American fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who created the iconic dress in the 1970s, heard about it only later. For von Furstenberg, it was one of the more than a million she has sold—but a significant one.

Von Furstenberg, 66, was the keynote speaker at the two-day Mint Luxury Conference, which opened in Mumbai’s Taj Lands End Hotel on Friday. Her inaugural address on the “Mystique of Design" chronicled the growth of her brand DVF, starting with her arrival in New York in 1970 with a suitcase full of jersey dresses made at her friend Angelo Ferretti’s factory in Italy.

In one of her early publicity posters, von Furstenberg is shown sitting on a white box wearing a wrap dress. The slogan—in blue ink on the box—says: “Feel like a woman, wear a dress".

“It was something I scribbled out to fill the white space," says von Furstenberg.

Feminist beliefs: Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg at the Mint Luxury Conference in Mumbai on Friday.(Hemant Mishra/Mint)

Von Furstenberg’s life and career have been marked by sharp, shooting highs. At 23, she married into the princely German House of Furstenberg, becoming the wife of Prince Egon. Following their divorce in 1972, she has continued to use his family name. At 28, she was on the cover of Newsweek and other magazines. But by 40, her brand had almost faded, and it was then that she infused it with an all-new identity.

Von Furstenberg spoke to Mint about the wrap dress, her inspirations and building her brand. Edited excerpts from an interview:

The wrap dress symbolizes power dressing for every American woman CEO. What about it connotes power and confidence?

The idea of the wrap is very classic…like a Roman toga or a sari. What’s different about this dress is that it’s made of jersey. It moulds the body and evokes a woman’s body language. She can wear it anyway she likes: conservatively to the playground, not-so-conservatively somewhere else. Also, I use very bold, striking prints. There’s a movement implied…like a leopard’s spots.

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Diane Von Furstenburg talks about the revival of her brand and whywraps can signify confidence for women

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Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Yes, I’m totally a feminist.

How does that work in the fashion industry, which is largely criticized for the objectification of women?

Well, it’s both. The industry does objectify women and I don’t like that at all. But fashion is also fun. It’s fun for a woman to wake up and decide what to wear. I consider myself a feminist because it’s my mission in life to empower women—through my work, through mentoring, through philanthropy (the DVF Awards are presented annually to four women who display leadership, strength and courage).

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After phenomenal early success, your brand was fragmented and almost dead. What inspired you to come back on the fashion scene as a global luxury lifestyle brand, which is now sold in more than 70 countries across the world, including India?

I re-emerged in 1997 after a long hiatus. It was very difficult. I had always said that I had three children—my son, my daughter and my brand. I even suffered from a cancer of the tongue and I think it’s because I wasn’t allowed to express myself. I had to express myself. I am a survivor.

Was the kimono an inspiration for your wrap dress?

No, I didn’t really think of that. It was inspired by those wrap tops that dancers wear. Kimonos are loose…I only related it to a kimono much later.

What is it about a dress that makes you feel like a woman?

Legs (smiles).

You have also inspired Andy Warhol…

Yes, we were in New York at the same time. We hung out. You see, everyone asks me about Warhol, but he was very shy. He would take pictures and make recordings on his tape recorder. He made a few artworks about me, yes.

You mentioned you weren’t sure what you wanted to do, but you were sure of who you wanted to be, and fashion helped you achieve that. What else would you have considered if not for fashion?

I would have liked to be an architect, playwright, a director…lots of things. Unless you have a real vocation from the beginning, you can float through different careers, isn’t it? It’s life, it can take you anywhere.

anindita.g@livemint.com

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