Diane von Furstenberg has built a career around dressing and championing women. And when the pandemic hit, the designer, activist and fashion industry insider did the same thing as the rest of us — hit pause and took time to reflect.
Luckily for us, she wrote down those reflections in her new book, Own It: The Secret to Life, which appropriately dropped on March 8, International Women's Day.
"Like everyone else confinement forced me to pause and made me reevaluate who I was and what mattered most," von Fürstenberg writes in the intro of the book, which follows an A to Z dictionary like format and focuses on her words to live by. "Whether personally or in my business, I had to confront what was not right anymore and accept what had to change. I had to face all the difficulties I was encountering and own them."
Below, PEOPLE catches up with the icon, who sheds light on her powerful prose, supporting other women and even shares exclusive readings from her new book.
Why were you inspired to write this book now?
I am now a woman at the sunset of her life. And therefore, part of what I know I'm leaving behind is a beautiful family and my brand. But I also want to be able to use my voice, my experience, my knowledge and my connections in order to help other women to be the women that they want to be.
Was it important for you that the format be a quick and digestible read?
I had the idea of doing it as a dictionary, because I love words. In the introduction, I say that "words have power." My mother always taught me the value of words. So I started to write down the words that I liked, or ones that I did not like, and it just flowed. And every word in this book goes back to owning it, which is where the title comes from. It's owning who we are. You own your imperfections, they become your assets. You own your vulnerability, they become your stride.
- Buy it! Own It: The Secret to Life signed paperback copy, $14.95; amazon.com
How did the pandemic affect your writing process?
When the pandemic happened, I was like everybody else — I was in my house and that made it more serious, because I became more reflective and that made finishing the book more serious. I finished it, I think in September, and I'm very happy with it. And the timing feels, so, so right.
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Can you pinpoint a time in you career where you felt the most vulnerable and fragile?
Oh my god — every day! I mean, every day you feel like a loser about something, but you've got to own it. And then when you own it, you make changes. And then all of a sudden you realize that you are better for that change.
Did you have any huge doubts before launching the iconic wrap dress?
No, because I had nothing to lose. I mean, I was working in Italy, in a factory and then I wanted to come to New York and then I got married. And then I made cute, little dresses in a factory and I had no idea what was ahead of me. At the beginning you don't know because you don't have anything to lose. I've had so many successes and so many failures. That's what I'm trying to say. And also, when I do talks, when I talked to 5,000 young women and so on, I don't talk about my successes, that's not inspiring. What is inspiring is when you talk about your challenges.
That's the kind of mentality I highlight in the book, and that's what one of my favorite words in the book that I deconstruct, "provocative," speaks to.
Provocative is one of my favorite words. I love the sound of it. It tickles, it’s a combination of question and affirmation. Nothing is more provocative than speaking the truth and revealing our imperfections. The provocative part gets attention, but the truth gets the respect. When I first started my company in my early twenties, I did a lot of personal appearances all around the country. LA, Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami, San Francisco, it was all so new and exotic to me. A young European Park Avenue princess coming to town to show her easy, affordable, little dresses, is how I was introduced by the local press everywhere. I did not love that definition. That’s when I decided to become a bit more provocative in my narrative to show that I was not perfect. The words became mine and the story no longer a fairytale.
What's a piece of advice you'd give your 20-year-old self now looking back?
Well, what I realized at this stage of my game is the reason why I've been so present in my life is that I always practice the truth. And therefore practicing the truth would be my advice.
Talk about owning it — you recently posted a swimsuit photo that went viral on Instagram. Were you surprised by the response?
I mean, you know what? I turned 74, I just came back from a long swim and I had no makeup and my hair was wet, and I just took this selfie because I thought, well pretty good for 74. And I don't know. It's not even a good picture. I posted it and it got so viral. I said, "Maybe I should pull it down," but then it would have been worse. So I don't know. Again, it's all about the relationship you have with yourself. The most important thing in life is the relationship you have with yourself. Once you have that, any other relationship is a plus, and not a must.
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