Taking pictures as we chat; enquiring where someone's bag is from, if the temperature can be increased in the room and whether something can be moved from here to there; cutting unwanted stitches from her jacket - one gets the feeling that Von Furstenberg is never not "on". Her thirst for knowledge is unquenched by years of learning and the joie de vivre that drives that thirst is palpable. Her beauty, in pictorial form, adorns the walls of the exhibition space that we meet in, and her real-life appearance is just as luminous and undeniable as it was thirty-odd years ago as she sashayed through the doors of Studio 54. Alone. Wearing cowboy boots.
|Diane Von Furstenberg|
It's not hard to imagine - reading Von Furstenberg's memoir, The Woman I Wanted To Be, or flipping through the pages of The Journey of A Dress, a Rizzoli picture book celebrating her greatest invention, the wrap dress - how the designer's allure first captivated a generation of women. Her stories of doing exactly what she pleased while looking unbelievably sexy are legion, and for women in the Seventies she embodied the type of woman that many of them longed to be: independent and feminist in their thinking, but still keen to look beautiful and feel sexy. Fashion hadn't yet answered the conundrum of what a sexy feminist looked like - and suddenly there she was. Exotic in her appearance, royal by marriage (having recently wed Prince Egon zu Fürstenberg), she arrived in New York to sell her collection - and her own brand of independence without a hint of man-hating - and women bought it, and bought it, and bought it.
"My role in fashion is to give women tools that are effortless, sexy and on-the-go," she said. "That's what my contribution is. I'm not a minimalist sack kind of designer. It's not that I don't like it, or that I don't respect it, but what is really important - for your life, for your brand, for everything - is to be true to yourself. It's not good when you lose yourself."
President of American fashion's governing body, the CFDA, for a record-breaking 10 years, she supports young designers - and encourages them to support each other - as she and her peers, including the late Oscar de la Renta, have always done.
"When you are older and you have been successful, it is important to give back," she said of her role. "There was a moment that, when they asked me to be on the board, I felt like an outsider. And I was so touched that they asked me. New York designers are really like a family: even though we compete, we support each other, and that is very special to New York."
I did not know what I wanted to do, but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be an independent woman, a woman who runs her own life, who's in charge of her life.Diane Von Furstenberg
Despite appearances, life hasn't been all leopard-printed roses for the pretty Euro princess turned grande dame of New York fashion. Her business has floundered, twice significantly; she's beaten cancer; and she talks of romantic betrayals and disappointments openly in her memoir. But, Von Furstenberg - the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor - is defined by her resilience. Her ability to throw herself, not just into work, but supporting causes that she believes in even when things are not going as she would like appeals to every person's urge for contentment. To find that without need for external reassurance is deliciously appealing.
"It's my personality, it's just who I am," she shrugs of her ability to bounce back from setbacks - both personally and professionally. "The book starts with my mother and I think that helps you understand me a little. It really wasn't until after she died that I understood the impact that she had on me."
Her irrepressible spirit is helped by an innate lack of sentimentality. She's a no regrets, no backward glances kind of girl - and if her current appearance is anything to go by, doing exactly what you please is certainly good for the complexion. Maybe worries really do give you wrinkles?
"My mother always told me 'Fear is not an option'," she told us, "So, scared? No. I don't get scared. Not of things you do. I love to look at old pictures - I keep everything and I love to look back - but I'm not nostalgic. It's not like I say, 'I wish we were back then'. I'm very happy to be old enough to have danced at Studio 54 and young enough to have experienced the digital revolution."
A fellow Studio 54 fan, Yves Saint Laurent - although famous for popularising tailoring for women - once lamented that he wished he had invented the blue jean, but is there any invention, other than the wrap dress, that Von Furstenberg wishes she could put her name to?
"No," she smirked. "I never thought of that. I think one is pretty good already, no?"
Diane von Furstenberg's new books - The Woman I Wanted To Be and Journey Of A Dress - are available now, and she is currently appearing on House of DVF, a documentary search to find the brand's new global ambassador on E!