It's a Wrap! Diane von Furstenberg's Dress Has 40th Anniversary


This past Golden Globes weekend kicked off with a party to celebrate the 40th anniversary of -- a dress! I kid you not, more celebrities showed up on Friday night at the old May Company building at Wilshire and Fairfax to celebrate the unveiling of a spectacular fashion show, than came to many of the weekend movie parties which I attended. This exhibit, entitled DVF 40: Journey of a Dress, Diane von Furstenberg, opened to the public on Saturday. This is the site of the future home of my Academy Film Museum, but it will feature this remarkable fashion show until April 1. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, it is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. One cautionary point: The exhibit is being sponsored by next-door LACMA, and the museum people have really screwed up the show for the public in one important respect.

Let me explain: I had a friend go at noon on Saturday, and she spent 40 minutes circling the building looking for the entrance; there is none off the street. Nothing. Finally, in tears, she called me, and I told her that she must walk east on Wilshire to Ogden, one block away, which is the entrance to the LACMA buildings. Then she goes to the plaza and makes a left turn at the beautiful Resnick Pavilion, and walks a long, long driveway down to the back of the May company building where she can enter. No charge, just lots of walking. Hey, guys, put up some signs on the corner, or at the building, somewhere, to tell the public where the entrance is (the Friday night partygoers were instructed where to enter on their invitation). In fact, parking is at the LACMA lot down below, and I suggest that the LACMA people open up the May building driveway on Fairfax and establish a valet station in front of the entrance. It would be very profitable and make life easier for those attending this great show.

Once you're in, it is magic time. On Friday evening, Diane von Furstenberg and husband Barry Diller were the official hosts, greeting such eminent guests as Vogue's Anna Wintour, Amazon's Jeff Bezos (over his kidney stone attack), Gwyneth Paltrow (in a sexy, sexy low cut gown), CAA's Bryan Lourd, HBO's Anderson Cooper, David Geffen, Gelila Puck and Moby. Let me tell you about this woman, Diane. As a straight guy of a certain age growing up in New York in the '50s and '60s, I dated lots of attractive women. But, just beyond reach was this enchanting woman who was always otherwise occupied whenever I tried. And I did. She is a Belgian-born, Jewish fashion designer.

Her Greek-born mother was a Holocaust survivor, and Diane was born 18 months after her mother left the Auschwitz concentration camp. At 18, in college, she met this dashing Prince Egan of Furstenberg, the elder son of a German prince (his mother was a Fiat heiress). They married in 1969, had two children, and divorced in 1972 (she told us she -- at 67 -- is now the grandmother of four). She continues to use his family name, although she is no longer entitled to use the Princess title. It was in 1970 that she began her fashion company with a borrowed $30,000. Today it is a global luxury fashion brand in 70 countries and 45 free-standing shops.

In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama wore the DVF signature chain link print wrap dress on the official White House Christmas card. In 2001 she married an acquaintance of mine, film executive Barry Diller, certainly one of the smartest men ever to rule in the film industry (he is now the principal backer of Aereo, which went to the Supreme Court this week). She and Barry founded their philanthropic foundation, which has donated many millions to just causes (I watch Charlie Rose every weekday night, and they support his show).

First, about the May company show. You enter a hallway which is papered with images of our designer, graphic patterns on the floor and walls, and a pink neon sign blaring: "Feel Like a Woman, Wear a Dress." Then you move into a large gallery which features photos of Diane at every age, as well as astonishing artist's renderings by such names as Chuck Close, Andy Warhol and Helmut Newton. There is a room supposedly duplicating Studio 54, with more photos.Then the fulcrum of the show, the culmination of 40 years of development since she invented the wrap dress in 1974. There, on black risers, are 202 versions of the wrap dress, long and short, of ever description and design. All of the mannequins have generic facial features which, I was told, were inspired by the designer's own distinctive cheekbones.

Somewhere in there is the original dress, which the lovely clerk in the DVF gift shop told me was just delivered five days ago, lent by a friend who didn't want to be named. It took them more than a year to collect these dresses from sources all over the world. I believe it -- it is an incredible, stunning, satisfying exhibition of the vast imagination of a fertile mind.

The entrance pavilion is lined with fascinating photos. Photo by Jay.

The dresses: 202 of them! Photo by Jay.

DVF told a press conference on Friday: "I selected Los Angeles to open this show because it is very much pop culture, and that's what my dress is." Over the year I have examined this wrap dress closely, often while trying to unwrap it. It is (or was) a cotton jersey dress wrapped in front, tied at the waist, a drip-dry fabric easy to wash. I remember how it became a popular phenomenon -- women of all ilk clamored to have one or more (now she has a new line of them in elegant fabrics, a different kettle of fish).

More dresses in the show. Photo by Jay.

She laughed and said: "I was 26 when I created this dress, It paid for everything; my children's education, my freedom. It gave me my fame and the American dream." I saw a quote she gave to L.A. Observed: "At 28 I fell in love with Barry Diller. I slept with a few movie stars along the way. Barry and I finally married in 2001. My dress was in many movies. [Editor's note: Amy Adams wears one in American Hustle.] My life is a movie. Every life is a movie, that's why we love Hollywood." Now that's a cool, cool woman.

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