“If I had gone to business school, if I had gone here — my god, I would own the world!”
Diane von Furstenberg is a statement maker. On Nov. 20, the illustrious fashion industry leader did not need a statement necklace to hold the attention of a packed audience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Her confident disposition and witty charm kept the predominantly female audience at Cemex Auditorium both entertained and enthralled. Hosted by Stanford Women in Business (SWIB), a pre-professional group of undergraduates who aim to establish a community of aspiring businesswomen across campus, von Furstenberg’s visit marked the first event this year of SWIB’s Executive Leadership Series.
Von Furstenberg did not go to business school, but that did not stop her from creating the international empire that is now “DVF.” As she described in relatable terms to her Stanford audience on Thursday, “I had my own start-up.”
This start-up refers to the 1974 introduction of her “wrap dress,” a garment that has come to “symbolize power and independence for an entire generation of women,” as stated on her website. Since then, von Furstenberg has developed a luxury brand available in over 55 countries.
Also known for her mentorship and work on the board of Vital Voices, an NGO that supports emerging female leaders and entrepreneurs, von Furstenberg declares women’s empowerment as her current “mission.” She did not originally plan for this, as she mentioned when she spoke of her early years.
“If you study business, chances are you don’t know what you’re going to do. So it is important that you think about the woman that you want to be,” she said.
Von Furstenberg reflected on this notion herself in her new memoir, “The Woman I Wanted to Be,” which came out this fall. In the first chapter of her memoir, entitled “Roots,” von Furstenberg pays homage to her mother as the key figure who influenced the woman she wanted to be. Her mother, a concentration camp survivor, taught her that “fear was not an option; you must be independent.”
Von Furstenberg echoed her mother’s words when she said, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be independent.”
Later on, she elaborated, “I was lucky because [the wrap dress is what] I became independent with. As I was gaining confidence myself, I was selling confidence and wrapping women in fitting rooms. By empowering myself, I was also empowering others.”
In addition to her mother, von Furstenberg noted that other women — or rather, all women — inspire her. She said, “I am very much inspired by women. I have never met a woman who is not strong.”
She calls herself a feminist “with a lot of m’s,” emphasizing her support for girl power.
“I know that people don’t think [feminism] is a fashionable word… What does [being] a feminist mean? It means that you believe in women’s empowerment. And you believe in equal rights. And you believe in equal pay. And you believe in equal.”
The statement maker left her female listeners with a few final messages that span all industries.
“Even if you work for somebody, you are your own boss. You are the boss of your own life.”
In the same way that her mother motivated her to become independent, von Furstenberg emboldened the crowd in the auditorium. Her message at the GSB had as much to do with the business of finance and fashion, as it had to do with the personal business of leading an autonomous life.
Contact Jenna Shapiro at jennshap ‘at’ stanford.edu.