March 30, 2012 10:00 pm

‘I am having a flashback!’

Diane von Furstenberg and her creative director, Yvan Mispelaere, talk seriously about crazy business

Diane von Furstenberg, 65, invented the wrap dress in 1974 at the age of 27; in 1983 she sold her company, later moving to France. She returned to New York in 1990 and relaunched her own brand in 1997. Her clothes (as well as accessories and homewares) are sold in more than 70 countries and 44 DVF stores, and she is once again a fashion force, as well as president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and a campaigner for women’s rights globally. Yvan Mispelaere, 44, became creative director of DVF in 2010, following stints at Gucci, Chloé and Valentino.

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How we met

DVF I heard about Yvan when I was looking for a creative director – someone who could really help me move the brand to the next level, and to whom I could pass my torch – and I think someone recommended him. I saw his cell phone [number] and it was a Belgian number – I remember that, because I am Belgian – and I think I called and left a message. What did I say? I’m always fascinated by the way people remember the same event in totally different ways.

YM You said “This is Diane Furstenberg” – you were talking in French so you didn’t use the ‘von’ – “and I want to take you to lunch”.

DVF What did you think? Did you know who I was?

YM Of course I knew who you were. I was curious. I had seen you once before. It must have been 1996 or 1997, when I was working with Valentino, and we were at the Ritz in Paris and you came in for a fitting and you were chatting to Valentino and you were pretty fabulous.

DVF I do a very good imitation of Valentino. I can do a very good Valentino talking to Giancarlo [Giammetti, Valentino’s partner].

YM But you know, I was happy, I had a nice, easy life; I was design director for Gucci womenswear, I was back in Rome, which I loved, going between there and Paris, I wasn’t looking for another job.

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Diane von Furstenberg at work©Jason Andrew

Decision time

DVF I am having a flashback! I remember, you called me back and I was on a plane, and I had a very bad seat – I was between two people – so I answered.

YM And you told me “I am under my blanket”.

DVF I had to put my coat over my head for some privacy.

YM And you asked me to come meet you in New York, so I did. But you didn’t tell me why. And then you asked me what would I think of living in New York and I had no idea what was going on. But our conversation felt very genuine. One thing you said really made an impression. You said you liked serious people. I do think I am a serious person, but in fashion that is not necessarily seen as a good quality. You are supposed to be crazy. So I liked that you liked that I was serious.

DVF You have to be serious at base. Then you can be crazy on top. When I met you, you seemed very familiar. I think it has to do with education and upbringing. You are from the north of France and I am from Belgium, and both are very grey places – grey sky, grey surroundings – and a lot of boredom. But we had lunch too, didn’t we?

YM We had lunch in Paris. And then we walked over to the Isadora Duncan show at the Musée Bourdelle. I was watching you watching things – seeing what you looked at – and you were watching me.

DVF I think it’s important to do these sorts of things when you are making a big decision. So I asked you to join. And you did. You came almost immediately. Which, when you think about it, was crazy. We had no idea how crazy it was.

Diane von Furstenberg and Yvan Mispelaere©Jason Andrew

YM We met in November 2009 and I moved in March 2010. The thing that amazed me was you didn’t ask to see my sketchbook, you didn’t ask me about what I thought of your brand, you didn’t ask for anything.

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Shared inspiration

DVF I offered you the job and then realised I hadn’t asked about any of that, and then I was too embarrassed to ask because I had already offered, so I finally said: “Maybe you could send me something?” You said you would send me a greeting card. So I said, OK, it’s my birthday December 31, send me a card.

YM It was a lot of pressure. I started making a collage and then I made another and another. And then I thought I should get a book, because there were a lot of them, so I got a wedding album.

DVF I got the book when I was in Aspen. You put an eye on the cover and Barry [Diller, Furstenberg’s husband] had just given me an eye bracelet for my birthday, and then everyone started giving me eyes. This is how life works: you think of a word, or an idea, and then you see it everywhere. It’s the same with collections. Like, for the spring/summer one, I think I came in and said to you “Africa!” – and that’s where we started.

YM You did, you said Africa and I said “but not safari, not colonial, not ethnic – modern Africa”.

DVF And then I saw a modern movie from the Congo called Viva Riva and it was full of the colour palette we needed, and then I got to thinking: Africa is really the seat of civilisation, the beginning of the world – so in the end the collection wasn’t called anything to do with Africa at all. It was called Beginnings. This is how we work. I’m a good muse, I think. And with age, I’ve gotten better. Of course, I could [be] your mother. Now you often tell me when we’re talking “That’s something my mother would say”.

YM Sometimes I get 12 emails in a row that say: “A picture for you”. I tend to wait until the end of the day and then send a long email with everything in it. If you don’t get one, you IM me. You always write: “You don’t love me any more?”

DVF But I know you do.

For previous conversations see www.ft.com/fashion

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