The Woman I Wanted to Be

By Angelica Pecha & Chloe Markland


Biography

Diane Simon Michelle Halfin was born to Jewish parents in Brussels, Belgium on December 31, 1946. Her mother is a Holocaust survivor. From a young age, her mother taught her how to be a strong woman and that, “fear was not an option; you must be independent” (Shapiro).  This fearless little girl would grow up to be the world famous designer, Diane Von Furstenberg (DVF). 

After DVF received a college education, she met and later married Prince Egon Von Furstenberg, the elder son of a German Roman Catholic price. That is the moment she decided to have her own career, “I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts,” she says (qtd. in Bibby). This speaks volumes to who Diane is as a woman. While most girls dream of being a princess, that was the moment Von Furstenberg knew that she wanted to be her own person with her own success, not just the wife of a prince.

Von Furstenberg is one of the world’s top selling designers, but more than that, she exemplifies what it means to be an independent woman. Von Furstenberg lives her life according to her own rules. She identified her talents and passions in business and fashion and made a name for herself.

The multi-dimensional fashion designer is a strong woman in every sense of the word. She practices what she preaches and has made her life goal to empower women. Diane’s wish for every woman is to discover her own authentic self and strive while doing so. 

Diane Von Furstenberg Spring/Summer 2018 at New York Fashion Week

Historical Context

In 1969, Diane and Prince Egon Von Furstenberg left Belgium and migrated to America. What better place to start a career in fashion design than New York City? Fresh to the NYC scene, Diane presented her first collection in 1970 (“Diane Von Furstenberg Biography”). 

Diane and her first husband, Prince Egon Von Furstenberg

This was a time when women were gaining independence and becoming dominant in the work place, but the notion of a working woman was still new. Women were going back to work because of financial need. They worked “female” jobs such as secretaries, bookkeepers, assistants, cashiers, and teachers. The wage gap was even wider than it is now with women making around 58 cents to every dollar earned by a man (Gail).

Since Von Furstenberg was married to a prince, she did not struggle financially. Once she got married, she simply wanted to be a woman of her own, not just a girl who married well. She pursued fashion and business not for the money aspect, but because she was following her dreams and making a living based on her passions. 

DVF was just a young woman at the time, but she was quickly exposed to the harsh reality of what it meant to be a woman in the workforce. There were two things were certain for women: periods and sexual harassment. As she remembers, “That’s just what happens to women. You get your periods every month and men just do things that they shouldn’t be doing” (Lankston and Michallon). Women were treated like meat. Society thought that the only thing that set women apart was their periods.  Women were not valued for their intelligence or their work ethic, but they were valued for their sex organs. Although this kind of inequality is still prevalent in today’s world, the 70s was just the beginning of our long journey towards gender equality.

 

“imagine if men were as disgusted with rape as they are with periods”

The Woman I Wanted to be Summary

As society has progressed, women have made a name for themselves in the work place. Can a woman be a mother and a professional, balance these roles successfully, and still be happy? In Dianne von Furstenberg’s autobiography, The Woman I Wanted to Be, she battles with every woman’s juggling act and reassures readers that, indeed, women can have it all. Her goal was clear: “the kind of woman who is independent and who doesn’t rely on a man to pay her bills” (Von Furstenberg).

Von Furstenberg is a Belgian-American fashion designer. Her first dress, the wrap dress, made it big in 1974 and was a symbol of power and independence for all generations of women. The fashion icon built a business and an empire on her own. She later had a husband and children, in which she was the bread-winner of the family.

Von Furstenberg takes on the feminine stereotype in fashion and male stereotype in business. Through the success within her business and her personal life, she encourages women to be whoever they want to be whether that means to be business woman, a mother, or both.

DVF’s infamous wrap dress

Societal standards make women feel that their purpose is limited. Von Furstenberg tells her own story of success, the success of being the woman she wanted to be, not the woman society wanted her to be.

Themes:

self-discovery

female empowerment

independence

individuality

inequality vs. equality

womanhood


Reviews

Often times, editorial reviews are plastered across the back cover of a book. The reviews included on the back cover of the book are favorable reviews from recognizable names. It is important to read the featured editorial reviews with a grain of salt and do your own personal research. By simply Googling “The Woman I Wanted to Be reviews”, readers can access more book reviews posted by the average reader.

Editorial Reviews

“[a] warm, confiding memoir.” –VOGUE

“Diane is the original modern princess who created the iconic wrap dress and has influenced fashion everywhere with her talent, lifestyle, elegance and beauty. Every girl will love reading her book.” -Kate Moss

“It has been a gift to read this book, and a true privilege to learn and discover that much more about DVF. What a thrill to be given an opportunity to peek even further into her life.” -Sarah Jessica Parker

The editorial reviews featured in this book are a collection of rave reviews from magazines and fashion icons. PEOPLE magazine says, “It’s so good, you’ll want to take notes” and Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue exclaims that the book is, “honest, direct, and fascinating – just like the author herself!” While these are positive reviews, this is just another attempt at selling to consumers. It is important to find both positive and negative reviews when choosing your next book.

When Google searching reviews for this autobiography, one of the first results is www.goodreads.com. This is a website designed to helping readers choose their next book by providing recommendations and users’ reviews. Reviewers on this website are people who simply enjoy reading; they are not trained to review, write, or think about texts the way professional publications do.

Cooper posted a review to www.goodreads.com on December 19, 2015, rating this novel one star and leaving a semi-lengthy review. This reader does not give Diane Von Furstenberg full credit to her success and claims that her former royal husband “helped open doors for her.” At the end of the review, Cooper explains that this autobiography needs “quality editing” to come off “less self-indulgent”.

This is more than just a negative book review, it is a preview of how many people in society criticize and diminish women. This reader is subconsciously finding flaw within Diane Von Furstenberg’s success story. In society, when a man is successful, he is confident, but when a woman talks about her success, she is “self-indulgent”. Cooper does not so much review the book, but instead criticizes Von Furstenberg as a successful woman. By the way this post is written, it is clear that this user has pre-existing views regarding gender roles.

Annasnova, another member of www.goodreads.com, posted a review on November 8, 2015. This style of review is to the point, listing both positive and negative aspects of the autobiography. This user describes the book to be an “Excellent light read”, but feels that some parts feel “a bit unreal”. This review does not include such social bias and focuses more on the content of the autobiography.

This book received mixed reviews, although majority were positive. The reviews posted online by readers varied in length; some were a few sentences and others were a few paragraphs. Being that this book is rooted in feminism, many readers respond with social/gender bias. They are critical of Von Furstenberg and find flaw in her story of success. Glowing editorial reviews provides potential readers with author credibility, while reviews posted by fellow readers are honest and varied.


Connections

Diane Von Furstenberg made a name for herself in our closets and in the fashion world. She is a world class fashion designer and is not often compared to other people or designers due to the success and individuality of her brand. Like many other famous female designers, such as Tory Burch and Stella McCartney, DVF dreamed of becoming a successful business woman.

These three women were destined to change the workplace for women as they conquered the stereotype that women were meant to be housewives and men were the breadwinners. Burch stated, “I was told by many men, particularly, never say say ‘social responsibility’ and ‘buisness’ in the same sentence…that made me more determined” (“15 Iconic Female Designers”).

These iconic designers also worked to build a business off of their creative and unique senses of creativity. Burch, McCartney, and Von Furstenberg share a passion for design and fashion. They all had fought to make their line stand out amongst the rest.

Stella McCartney
Tory Burch

Von Furstenberg earned the public’s attention with her wrap dress, while McCartney incorporated animal fur in clothing items, despite the public’s confrontational views regarding animal abuse. Burch did not have one particular unique dress or item that made it big. Instead, she wanted to focus on achieving a successful clothing company. She wanted her clothing company to be a “mid-century aesthetic softened by a haute-bohemian flair” (“15 Iconic Female Designers”).

Being that the business industry is predominately male, all three of these female designers experienced what it means to be a woman in the work place and what it is like to achieve great success, despite other’s doubts.

After experiencing the gender biases in the work place, Von Furstenberg used her platform to encourage women. She insisted, “…fight for our rights, but to do it with dignity-not whining, not crying. Since we are stronger than men, we shouldn’t be afraid of our own strength” (“15 Iconic Female Designers”). Similarly, McCartney preached in an interview saying, “It’s time for women to see that they have a lot of power” (Stella McCartney Interview).

While all women experience some sort of gender stereotype in their lifetime, sometimes it takes a powerful name, and more importantly, a powerful woman to reassure women how strong they are.

When purchasing a book on Amazon.com, readers can see other books that similar readers are viewing online. Customers who read The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane Von Furstenberg also viewed Twenty-Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning by Allison Trowbridge, Diane Von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped by Gioia Diliberto, and Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham.  These three books share similar ideas and themes to The Woman I Wanted to Be.

Twenty-Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning shares the same topic of becoming a strong independent woman. Diane Von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped is a biography of Diane Von Furstenberg’s life. This book is not a personal memoir like The Woman I Wanted to Be, but it tells a similar success story of the fashion designer. Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” is an autobiography written by actor and comedian, Lena Dunham. This is a feminist inspired novel written by another famous woman. 

These three listed books break-down connections made in content, format, and theme. This book is comparable to other inspirational stories about girls growing up to be their own versions of a strong women. All of these books aim to encourage girls and women to be the best version of themselves despite sexist notions engrained in our society.


Works Cited

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