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26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs: Diane von Furstenberg

for staging an elegant comeback

From: Inc. Magazine, April 2005 | By: null


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Diane von Furstenberg Diane von Furstenberg Studio

for staging an elegant comeback

Diane von Furstenberg faced a bitter quandary when she returned to the American fashion scene in 1990: Her signature product, the wrap dress, hung in the Smithsonian, yet no stores would carry it. "My brand meant nothing," she says. "I had become a has-been."

The Belgian-born von Furstenberg had made her mark on the New York fashion world in 1972 with her versatile dress, which was appropriate for the office yet sexy enough for a night at Studio 54. During the next few years, she sold five million of them. Then the market became saturated, sales dried up, and she sold most of her licenses to avoid bankruptcy. "I lost control," she says. She retreated to Europe.

In 1992, the designer embarked on a comeback. She started Silk Assets, one of the first clothing lines for QVC. "It was tacky, but it gave me confidence," she says. Then she founded Diane von Furstenberg Studio to design moderately priced apparel sold at upscale department stores. The latest wrap dress, for example, retails for $298. The line has been a hit with consumers and critics alike, and the business turned its first profit in 2003. For von Furstenberg, 58, whose fall 2005 collection features a Russian theme, success has been sweeter this time. "I was on the cover of Newsweek at age 29," she says. "To do it again now, that's even better."

Nadine Heintz

26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs

  1. Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
    because she took one for the team
  2. Richard Branson, Virgin Group
    because he's game for anything. In fact, everything.
  3. Michael Dell, Dell Computer
    for being brilliantly straightforward
  4. Jim Sinegal, Costco
    because who knew a big-box chain could have a generous soul?
  5. Diane von Furstenberg, Diane von Furstenberg Studio
    for staging an elegant comeback
  6. Julie Azuma, Different Roads to Learning
    for offering hope and help to the parents of autistic children
  7. Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing
    for setting limits
  8. Ray Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies and other companies
    because he is Edison's rightful heir
  9. Craig Newmark, Craigslist
    for putting the free in free markets
  10. Jack Mitchell, Mitchells/Richards
    because his family business makes an art of customer service
  11. Frank Robinson, Robinson Helicopter
    for whipping an entire industry into shape
  12. Mark Melton, Melton Franchise Systems
    for giving immigrants their shot at the American Dream
  13. Michelle Cardinal & Tim O'Leary, Cmedia and Respond2
    for rewriting the rules for husband-and-wife teams
  14. Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion
    because someone had to stand up for all those frustrated engineers
  15. Trip Hawkins, Electronics Arts and Digital Chocolate
    for still scrapping
  16. Warren Brown, Cake Love and Love Cafe
    because only in America will someone quit a secure job as a lawyer to start a bakery
  17. Muriel Siebert, Muriel Siebert & Co.
    for being a notable first with a worthy second act
  18. Chuck Porter, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky
    for verging on reckless
  19. Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut
    for setting a completely unreasonable goal for her business
  20. Barry Steinberg & Craig Sumerel, Direct Tire and Auto Service
    for showing the power of the peer group
  21. Victoria Parham, Virtual Support Services
    for serving as a mentor to military spouses
  22. Tom LaTour, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants
    for staying at fleabag hotels so that we don't have to
  23. Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams, Mitchell Gold
    for creating a true comfort zone
  24. Izzy & Coco Tihanyi, Surf Diva
    for kicking sand in the face of conventional wisdom
  25. Tony Lee, Ring Masters
    for saving 16 jobs, including his own
  26. Rueben Martinez, Libreria Martinez Books and Art Galleries
    for simultaneously building a business and nurturing Latino culture

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