Diane von Furstenberg. Designer and philanthropist. Fashion mogul and proud New Yorker, with a life-long commitment to supporting women that never goes out of style.
You were born in Brussels just 18 months after your mother Lillian was liberated from Auschwitz. She called you her “torch of freedom.” If anyone understood that fear was not an option, Lillian did, and she passed that self-confidence and fight on to you. With her at your back, you attended university, took jobs in Paris and throughout Italy, and headed to New York City as the Sixties came to a close—with a prince of a husband, a suitcase of garments, and a hunger for a career to call your own.
And it happened. The simple jersey that spun around the body like a hug and tied with a soft fabric belt. To wear it was to love it. It was the wrap dress and if we didn’t own one, our sisters did. It became synonymous with ease and elegance, an unintended symbol of 1970s women’s lib, seen on everyone from First Ladies to our closest friends, everywhere from magazine covers to movie screens. A cultural phenomenon in cloth.
A million were sold in the first two years and, in addition to gracing closets across the globe, it now resides in the collection of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its 40th birthday was celebrated in 2014 with the exhibition, “Journey of a Dress.”
You have built and expanded your business to over 70 countries, helping to give American sportswear international appeal. You have written books, including The Woman I Wanted to Be, which clearly you have become. And with all of your success, you have insisted on giving back to this City and the world, as a mentor, a donor, a leader. You earned a lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and now serve as its chairman. You campaigned to save and develop the High Line and, in 2010, you established the DVF Awards to honor and support women who, through their causes, have bettered the lives of others. And you bring a signature candor to it all, speaking openly about aging, fortune, illness, comebacks, courage, love and loss.
So today, we are thrilled to embrace your triumphs, your creativity, and your very colorful spirit by awarding you the 2017 Barnard Medal of Distinction. Like everything else, we are sure you’ll wear it well.