The Woman I Wanted To Be is Diane von Furstenberg’s third book. And this time around, it’s not just about building a brand, it’s about building a legacy:
“My goals had shifted. No longer was I striving to be financially independent. I was. I didn’t need to prove that the first time around wasn’t an accident. I had. What I wanted now was to turn a good company into a great company, to leave a legacy, something that would live beyond me. I had reached the age where you begin to think about what you leave your grandchildren and their children.”
The 67-year-old designer, now celebrating the 40th anniversary of her iconic wrap dress, uses the memoir to look back to the legacy left to her by her mother, a Holocaust survivor, and to pay it forward to women who will own their own strength and power.
Sometimes there are doors that will open and you think it is not an important door and yet it is – so it’s very important to be curious and pay attention, because sometimes you learn and you don’t even know you’re learning.
Like her mother, von Furstenberg is a survivor – of divorce, tongue cancer, and two failed businesses. What saved her in every instance are the skills and strengths that she cultivated through her mother: curiosity, self-reliance, and self-love. And from her father: confidence.
The secret to von Furstenberg’s wild success? An unbeatable mixture of curiosity and confidence. At every juncture, she allowed her native curiosity to open her to opportunities and her confidence to say, “Why not?” When disaster struck (bad inventory management sent her company tanking — not once, but twice), she took responsibility and made the best of a bad situation, never looking back.
We usually think of curiosity as something given – you either have it, or you don’t. But von Furstenberg shows us how she cultivated her curiosity by actively listening and learning. The wrap dress would have never happened if von Furstenberg hadn’t spent a formative apprenticeship listening and learning from a Milanese fabric-knitting factory owner.
“Many of the things I still do today, I learned from that man. I had no idea that would happen, which is something I always tell young people. ‘Listen, always listen. Most people at the beginnings of their lives don’t know what they want to be unless you have a real vocation, like a pianist or a doctor, so it is very important to listen. Sometimes there are doors that will open and you think it is not an important door and yet it is – so it’s very important to be curious and pay attention, because sometimes you learn and you don’t even know you’re learning.”
Although we know von Furstenberg, via the media, as a larger-than-life overnight success, the full story that she recounts here is full of ups and downs, false starts, mistaken moves, bad decisions, even lost years. “At twenty-five, I was a wunderkind. At forty, I was a has-been.” And not long thereafter, “I went from a has-been to a pioneer once again.”
And, she shows us, it could not have been otherwise. Success, she advises young people, is not a straight line:
“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.’”
And here’s more: