Business mogul Diane von Furstenberg exuded characteristic confidence when she took the stage at New York University's Stern School of Business on Wednesday evening, trumpeting the value of being self-reliant.

"The most important relationship in life is the one you have with yourself," the prominent fashion designer said. "If you have that, any other relationship is a plus and not a must."

Von Furstenberg added that she sees her career as "selling confidence" to women through fashion.

"Confidence" is certainly marketable, if the numbers are any indication: Today, her eponymous fashion company boasts annual sales of more than $200 million, operating in more than 70 countries worldwide. Von Furstenberg first rose to fame in 1974, with the advent of her iconic wrap dress, whose simple, professional, yet feminine look revolutionized women's fashion, and landed her on the cover of Newsweek by 1976. 

In her speech to the fifth annual Women Entrepreneurs Festival, von Furstenberg nodded to the harder moments in her founder's journey. "Being successful as a younger person allows you to have few failures afterward," she said. Decline in demand for the wrap dress forced her to sell most of her licenses and return to Europe. She later relaunched her brand in 1997 at the age of 50--a time that she refers to as her "comeback." 

Even then, she said, "I thought I was a startup." Although DVF is one of the most successful fashion brands worldwide (and von Fursternberg one of its most prominent designers, complete with her own reality TV show), she said that her company continues to "behave like a startup."

Her top piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Embrace your passion, and follow your heart. Ultimately, "If you make a mistake, at least it was what you wanted to do." 

Published on: Jan 22, 2015