Diane Von Furstenberg is not known for being one to shy away from the spotlight--or shrink from controversy.
The Belgian-born entrepreneur explained to a crowd at the Fast Company Innovation Festival Thursday how she found her voice--and why she embraced being outspoken. It started with founding her fashion business: "I wanted to be able to have a man's life in a woman's body, so to be independent was my goal," she said. "Very quickly I was in the light; I had a voice."
The years she started designing silk-jersey dresses were also the first in her marriage to Prince Egon von Furstenberg. Magazines portrayed her as a "Park Avenue princess," she recalled--a label that offended her. "One of the reasons I became ... a little bit provocative was that at least when they quoted me they were actually quoting me," she said.
Von Furstenburg built her company in the 1970s, and learned to project confidence to bolster her business. "The more confidence I had, the more I was selling," she said. Still, for decades she didn't consider herself an iconic designer--even as her brand, DVF, became known globally (it would grow to an estimated $500 million in revenue by 2015). She described driving up to the 2014 exhibition celebrating the 40-year-anniversary of her legendary wrap dress, and finally realizing that she was worthy of the accolades she had received.
In recent years, Von Furstenburg has brought in outside executives to run DVF, changing her role now that, at the age of 71, she's in what she called her "third act," "I am an oracle," she said. "I am an old women. I have done a lot. Come to me for advice." She said she begins her days with an act of selflessness, sending two emails that have no benefit to her, simply connecting other people or doing them favors.
Of course Von Furstenburg's self-deprecating manner undersells her enduring value. "Diane is the biggest asset to this business. She is iconic," DVF chief executive Sandra Campos told The Business of Fashion earlier this year. And Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of dating and networking app Bumble, who also spoke at the Fast Company event, put it even more plainly, telling Von Furstenberg: "You're my hero!"