Have you ever read a book you really didn’t like but felt compelled to complete? It is especially disappointing when that book is a memoir, biography, or autobiography of a person you really admire. This is how I feel about Diane von Furstenberg’s recent (2015) memoir The Woman I Wanted to Be.
I’m neither a fashionista in practice nor a person who possesses deep inside baseball information about the fashion world, yet I’ve heard of DVF from the E! network. She has a reality show in the late Summer/Early Fall where she looks for a Brand Ambassador for her company.
The show has a standard Project Runway/America’s Next Top Model format. The girls (and last season 1 guy) live near one another in a hotel, hang out, have to work together on projects, and use all their skills to impress DVF’s team and DVF herself. That is standard and not what attracted me to DVF or the show.
House of DVF really showcases the strength of DVF and her team. They are confident, they don’t have egos, they aren’t afraid to give constructive criticism or put a rude person in her place. They work together and they disagree civilly. I am so impressed with them and wish so much I could be in that environment.
So onto the book…
Diane von Furstenberg’s story is really atypical. Her mother was liberated from a concentration camp as soon as WWII was over, she married shortly after and was instructed not to have children because her body would not handle pregnancy in her condition. Yet, Diane was born shortly after. She was a miracle child and really helped her mother gather strength after the horrible ordeal she suffered.
This part of the book is actually interesting. Shortly after it becomes hard to read.
DVF then becomes DVF when she marries an actual prince, Egon von Furstenberg, and becomes a princess. Her husband’s family is a bit wary (read: anti-semitic) of her background, though.
From Page 63
Clara was very supportive, but on Egon’s father’s side, the patriarch of the Furstenberg family was evidently not. Jewish blood in the family was unheard of and there was opposition.
She dabbles in fashion and succeeds very significantly. She makes some mistakes and has to diversify until she decides to back away. Her return to fashion happens in the late 90s until now where she has achieved not only fashion success, but leadership achievements in many realms.
What’s hard for me to read in this part? All of the name-dropping and stories of her extravagant lifestyle. I really could not read that much of a book that only talked about these topics. Everyone enjoys a bit of indulgence sometimes but this was nonstop for a while.
Pictured below: Mick Jagger, Martin Summers, Jerry Hall, Nona Summers, DVF, and her kids.
For example, on page 93 of the hardcover US edition
We asked our friend, the artist Anh Duong, to do a sculpture for the figurehead of the boat and she asked me to pose for it. So there I am in front of Eos, sailing the world, literally.
Let’s look at some other quotes:
From the introduction
As a girl, I did not know what I wanted to do but I I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be my own person, independent and free. I knew that freedom could only be achieved if I took full responsibility for myself and my actions, if I were true to truth, if I became my very best friend.
This is the idea behind the title of the book and a phrase DVF says EVERYWHERE. On her show, in many interviews, in this book over and over. It is powerful, but not after this oversaturation.
From page 7
I didn’t used to talk nearly as much about my mother. I took her for granted as children do their mothers. It was not until she died in 2000 that I fully realized what an incredibly huge influence she had been on me and how much I owe her.
Like any child, I hadn’t paid much attention. “OK. OK, you told me that already,” I’d brush her off, or even pretend not to hear. I bridled, too, at the unsolicited advice she persisted in giving my friends. In fact, it annoyed me.
Now, of course, I feel I have had the experience and earned the wisdom to hand out my own unsolicited advice, and I press every lesson my mother taught me on my children, grandchildren, and anyone I talk to. I have become her.
This feels close to home. While my mother is still alive, she is a lot older than my friends’ mothers and I do actively think about what will happen once she’s gone. This is a pretty accurate reflection of general children/parent relationships, in my opinion.
From page 31
I’m often asked what was the worst thing that ever happened to me, what were my biggest challenges. I find it difficult to answer because I have this habit I inherited from my mother that somehow transforms what’s bad into something good, so in the end, I don’t remember what was bad.
When I have an obstacle in front of me, especially of someone else’s making, I say “OK. I don’t like it, but I can’t change it, so let’s find a way around it.” Then I find a different path to a solution, which so satisfies me that I forget what the problem was in the first place.
Of all the lessons my mother drummed into me, that was perhaps the most important. How could you possibly better yourself if you didn’t face your challenges up front or if you laid your problems off on someone or something else and didn’t learn from them?
I offer that lesson often in my talks to young women. “Don’t blame your parents, don’t blame your boyfriend, don’t blame the weather. Accept the reality, embrace the challenge, and deal with it. Be in charge of your own life. Turn negatives into positives and be proud to be a woman.”
This is similar to how I approach life. Similar but not exact. I definitely allow myself to cry, complain, and wallow for a bit and then move on and figure things out.
(Do you ever feel like what you complain about is childish when you start comparing? I feel that way often, so on top of feeling sorry for myself about a setback, I also feel conflicted about feeling sad… It’s a fun cycle. :))
From page 34
I was watching my old mother, wrinkled and sick in her chair, looking at this little girl on the floor and that little girl looking back at her, when suddenly I saw a flash of something white, almost like lightning coming out of my mother and going into Talita.
I believe that that day my mother’s energy and spirit transferred to my granddaughter. I saw it happen, that white flash going from my mother into Talita. I saw it.
What is happening here? DVF what are you saying?
From page 45
If I have one regret in my life, it is that I didn’t pay more attention to Tatiana when, in fact, she was the one who needed it more. In contrast to Alexandre, who was the one who needed it more.
In contrast to Alexandre, who was quite a wild boy and reduced me to pleading tears when he became a very fast teenage driver, Tatiana was such a good girl and caused so few problems that I took her for granted. This was a mistake.
I didn’t realize until much later that because she so rarely did anything to draw attention to herself, she felt I cared less about her than I did her brother. That brought an ache to my heart because I love them both with equal intensity, but I could see how she felt that way.
Alexandre did get more of my attention because Tatiana didn’t seem to need it. I was completely wrong.
I can relate to this as a team leader rather than a parent, as I am not a parent currently. Sometimes you spend more energy helping the people that need it and forget to build up the people that don’t need supervision.
I can also relate to this as a child. My parents definitely treat each of us differently because we all need a different level of attention. I have lots of thoughts about this, but I’ll keep those private. :)
From page 98
I ironed it on an ironing board at times, and had it blown out by hairdressers all over the world, convinced that straight hair was the key to beauty and happiness.
-I’ve definitely done this when I was younger.
From page 50
I got an indignant email from her after I sent a “Happy International Women’s Day” email. “Shouldn’t it be women’s and girls’ day?” she emailed me. “Aren’t we women, too?”
-This is a good point from DVF’s granddaughter. Is there an International Girls Day? Yep! October 11th.
From page 133
No quote. I learned that Nona Summers was the inspiration for characters on Absolutely Fabulous.
I love AbFab. I started watching it in freshie year of high school with my friend Eve. Silly, ridiculous, but great.
From page 58
No quote. I learned that Fiat is part of Egon’s family’s business. That’s why it’s used on her show so often.
From page 39
Beware of your thoughts for they become words.
Beware of your words for they become actions.
Beware of your actions for they become habits.
Beware of your habits for they become character.
Beware of your character for it becomes your destiny.
A quote from Lao Tzu that DVF uses as a motto/inspiration.
From page 75
I remember him telling me that left alone with him in the room, four-year old Tatiana smiled at him, and trying to figure him out, asked, “Who are your friends?” Neither of us remembers his answer but we will never forget her question.
On an interview recently, I was asked who my friends are and who I am within the group. Whether DVF’s daughter understood this, I doubt, yet it is an important question when getting to know someone.
From page 154
When young people eager to start their own lives and careers ask me for advice I smile and always say: “Passion and persistence are what matter. Dreams are achievable and you can make your fantasy come true, but there are no shortcuts. Nothing happens without hard work.”
Yep. And so many parts of life aren’t hard, they just take time.
I felt the same admiration watching my mother get dressed to go out, whether at night to a party with my father, or by herself during the day. She took great care in what she wore, and her outfit was often punctuated by a hat. Her hair, her makeup, her perfume…she looked at herself in the mirror with a smile of complicity and confidence.
She had a great figure and wore very tight skirts and dresses. Her heels clicked, too. Where is she going? I wondered. How does she know how to put herself together so well and always look so chic? I couldn’t get enough of it, watching all the shine, the allure, the glamour that was my mother. She, too, was the woman I hoped to be.
There were the few times I saw my mother as a super glamorous figure. I know she’s beautiful and seeing her pictures from her youth I know she has a sense of style. But to me, my mother is this creative and active go-getter.
I saw my mother more often happily covered in paint. She loves to work with her hands, and heavy machinery, to create. It’s funny how the way we see our parents when we are young really effects us.
To be honest, Diane Von Furstenberg has led an incredible life. The amount of projects she had her hands in, the types of success she achieves, and the lessons she learned are impressive. -HBT