Film review: Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge

Studio: Hulu
Directors: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy & Trish Dalton

Jun 19, 2024 Web Exclusive
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Diane von Furstenberg is, of course, synonymous with the timeless wrap dress. The expansive new documentary, Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge makes clear the dress is only a single chapter—albeit a significant one—of the iconic designer’s tremendous life.

The Belgian-born von Furstenberg was a “torch of freedom” for her mother, a Holocaust survivor who had von Furstenberg 18 months after being released from Auschwitz—against the advice of her physician. Von Furstenberg was raised to know no fear, which is at the core of who she is and everything she has accomplished. She married a German prince and, at the same time, put together her fashion designs—less as an aspirational career and more as creative ideas.

The von Furstenbergs moved to New York at the height of the hedonistic ‘70s where they stepped immediately into society and nightlife, becoming regulars at all the hotspots, including Studio 54. By day, von Furstenberg was hocking her fabulous wares. Fashion editor Diana Vreeland says Von Furstenberg arrived not with a dream, but with a fait accompli collection. She may have been a Park Avenue princess, but von Furstenberg was pounding the pavement of not just New York, but that of all the square states. She ran every aspect of her business from designing to sourcing materials, sewing to distribution.

She describes the inspiration behind the wrap dress and the launch of it with a stunning print ad featuring a sexy and sophisticated von Furstenberg. A feminine silhouette that works on the dancefloor as easily as it does in the boardroom, the dress catapulted von Furstenberg to the top of the fashion industry and pop culture. She became a raging success at the age of 22, with two infants in tow and her prince in her rearview. Her resilient mother came to help with the children, allowing von Furstenberg to continue her career and her nightlife.

At a time when promiscuity was commonplace, von Furstenberg says, “I was having a man’s life in a woman’s body.” Her ex-husband, now mainly involved in same-sex sexual encounters, to the consternation of his children, contracted AIDS. It was von Furstenberg, still best friends with him, who closed his eyelids when he passed.

An unintentional feminist, von Furstenberg made direct contact with her customers. She held workshops around the country where she personally showed women how to present themselves professionally. She gave women the tools to be independent and taught them how to use them.

Despite the universal popularity of the wrap dress, von Furstenberg lost everything, although the film fails to clarify why. She fell in love with various men at a regular clip, but her relationship with her children was frayed. She started various smaller ventures—perfume, a boutique publishing house—and her brand became a license play without her creative input. She was diagnosed with cancer, but that didn’t slow her down in the least. “She was a gladiator,” writer, wit, and close friend Fran Leibowitz states.

Von Furstenberg came back from cancer with a vengeance, and relaunched her brand on QVC with a splash. This segment of the film is priceless in its corniness and its power. “We sold $1,4000,000 in two hours,” says von Furstenberg. The wrap dress had a resurgence in the late ‘90s when a new generation found it in vintage shops. This spurred von Furstenberg to relaunch the dress and revitalize her brand, once again positioning herself at the center of pop culture and fashion.

Even though she was married to two powerful men, von Furstenberg maintained her power, her independence, and a separately defined life. At the same time, she had, and has, a close and loving relationship with them that is, first and foremost, a friendship.

The DVF brand continues to be a major player in fashion with von Furstenberg’s grandchildren running the business. Their insight and acumen is inherent, but von Furstenberg continues to micromanage every decision. Multiple generations of family members are among the guest commentators sprinkled throughout the film, while fashion personalities and friends also have cameos. However, the glamorous von Furstenberg remains the primary talking head.

At 77, von Furstenberg is captured in her home where she has less of a nostalgic outlook and more of a matter-of-fact attitude toward her life, which is still running at maximum capacity. Candid statements are her way of speaking, then and now. Juxtaposed against the archival footage and images, the film could be seen as hagiographic. But the fact is, von Furstenberg has lived an exceptional life and continues to do so, particularly in proactively supporting and uplifting women. Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge succeeds in capturing her legacy beyond the wrap dress. (

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10


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