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People Top 5
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- December 09, 1991
- Vol. 36
- No. 22
Not Lying on Her Laurels
After Several Seasons Under Wraps, Diane Von Furstenberg Is Back with Big Fashion Plans and a Book on Beds
Although she has been tucked away out of the public eye for the past few years, Von Furstenberg knows what she's talking about when it comes to la dolce vita. In 1969 she was a newly arrived European Princess in New York City, the wife of Austria's dashing millionaire Prince Egon von und zu Fürstenberg. Fed up with the bell-bottom jeans and sexless pantsuits of the day, she devised a slinky, moderately priced wrap dress that turned millions of mall mothers and working women into saucy sirens virtually overnight. Around this one instant hit, Von Furstenberg built a design empire that eventually included eyeglasses and even nurses uniforms. (Over the past decade, she says, licensed products bearing her name have brought in more than $1 billion.) "I lived the American dream," she says. "I made money, I made children [Tatiana, now 20, and Alexandre, 21], I became famous, and I dressed everyone in America."
Celebrating her success, Von Furstenberg burned rubber in the social fast lane. A Studio 54 regular, she hung out with Halston, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and the rest of the gang. After divorcing Egon in 1983—the marriage, she says, had been shaky for years—she also became known, according to a 1981 story in New York magazine, as the Princess with "a boy at each leg." Two of those boys were Richard Gere and Warren Beatty. "Every girl always says, 'Oh, I can't sleep with that person because what if he doesn't call me the next day,' " says Von Furstenberg. "My idea was to have the boys feel that way."
But wild nights coupled with long days at the office began to wear thin. "I needed time off," says Diane. "During the '80s, I concentrated on my children, my health and the inside of me." She moved to Paris in 1985, after she fell in love with noted French novelist Alain Elkann. Their spacious Rive Gauche apartment became a literary salon, and Diane founded a publishing house that next year will release the French edition of Bret Easton Ellis's controversial American Psycho.
Such intellectual high life was to be expected of Diane Halfin. The daughter of affluent Belgian Jewish parents (her mother barely escaped death at a concentration camp, located coincidentally just a few miles from the Von und zu Furstenberg castle), she had a bourgeois upbringing in Brussels before going off to boarding school at age 12. In 1968, while studying economics at the University of Geneva, she fell in love with Egon. When they married a year later, she became—if not exactly Cinderella—a Princess. (Egon now owns a couture house in Italy. Tatiana recently graduated from Brown University, and Alexandre is now a junior there.)
After breaking up with Elkann and returning to the U.S. two years ago, Von Furstenberg considers Beds her wake-up call. Due next spring is a line of dresses (including a reincarnation of her signature wrap). "I'll be schlepping to every mall spraying perfume," she says, "wrapping my hot, hot little dresses on whomever I can." Nobody who knows her doubts it. "She's the Princess of self-promotion," says one fashion insider. Adds good friend Calvin Klein: "If she wants to come back, she can make it happen. I'd bet on her anytime."
For her part, Von Furstenberg has learned from her past. She has reentered the U.S. social swirl, though at a calmer pace. Last month she jetted to Liz Taylor's West Coast wedding with longtime friend Twentieth Century Fox chief Barry Diller, then attended a dinner with tablemate Joan Collins three days later. "She's just so intense about life," says Rolling Stone editor and publisher Jann Wenner, who named Diane godmother to his third child, 1-year-old Augustus. "She's got a lot of power and skill at her fingertips, and she uses it all."
At home, though, on her 100-acre Litchfield County, Conn., estate, Cloudwalk, she is more inclined to turn down the power and relax. For the first time since she was 13, in fact, there is no man in Von Furstenberg's life—and, she says, she couldn't be happier. "I'm at ease with myself," she says. "I'm alone but not lonely."
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