Diane Von Furstenberg Talks Global Business and Philanthropy
Fashion entrepreneur and global philanthropist Diane von Furstenberg’s November 1 address at Gaston Hall inaugurated a series on women and leadership that will be a signature School of Foreign Service initiative.
"Believe in what you’re doing. When you’re young, you have one advantage - you have nothing to lose."
Being a businesswoman in the 1970s meant putting up with a lot of sexism, the designer told a large crowd, but it didn’t impede her success. The innovation that turned von Furstenberg into a household name was the wrap dress, and although its popularity landed her on the cover of Newsweek before she turned 30, she still had to fight for respect. As her company grew, she began to trust her own instincts.
“The confidence I had gained, I shared through the clothing,” she explained. “It was an extraordinary dialogue between me and the consumers.” She told the many students in the audience to “believe in what you’re doing. When you’re young, you have one advantage – you have nothing to lose.”
Von Furstenberg serves on the board of the global women’s rights group Vital Voices and participates in other charitable endeavors. That includes her Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, which gives scholarships to outstanding female leaders. She also led the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s design and sale of a T-shirt that raised $1 million for the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.
Von Furstenberg is “a very unusual person in that she has had three highly successful careers,” SFS Dean Carol Lancaster said in introducing her. “She is a designer extraordinare … a highly successful businesswoman … and an active and generous philanthropist.” Dean Lancaster serves on the Vital Voices board with von Furstenberg.
SFS sponsors of the talk included the Dean’s Office, Georgetown Women in International Affairs and the Mortara Center for International Studies. Other sponsors were the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership, the Georgetown Public Policy Institute and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity.