January 10, 2014 6:44 pm

Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress turns 40

Michael Wilkinson, costume designer for the film ‘American Hustle’

I was gathering research images for Amy Adams’ character, Sydney, and I kept coming across stunning DVF photos from the 1970s – not only of women wearing Diane’s designs but amazing photos of Diane herself. The images had the right combination of confidence, elegance and sexiness that we needed to convey with the character. The clean lines of the wrap dress exemplified the new spirit of the clothes for American women in the late 1970s. It was a time when women were enjoying new freedoms in fashion: fewer underpinnings, less structure and bold, streamlined shapes. The natural shapes of a woman’s body were celebrated. We see Amy’s character fall in love in the film, and she expresses her newfound confidence and joie de vivre by wearing these body-hugging wrap dresses in bold patterns – clothes that make her feel empowered, sexy and up-to-date.

Amy wears three DVF dresses in the film. The first is the green and white dress that Diane herself was photographed in for the cover of Newsweek. Our director, David O Russell, was obsessed with this dress, so we were very excited when we found it online from a vintage dealer. The second dress is a bold chocolate and white stylised feather design that we unearthed in a costume rental house in Los Angeles. The third is actually a contemporary DVF dress: a black and red jumbo leopard print.

. . .

Anh Duong, artist

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I painted Diane’s portrait in 2001, and around that time I became close to her and experienced her as a friend and confidante. She sort of became like a big sister.

One day, when I was going to meet a financial adviser, I remember feeling that I needed support, so I put on a wrap dress. It was not a fashion statement, more a feeling statement. In the wrap dress I could hear Diane’s voice whispering to “live a man’s life in a woman’s body”. You could run an empire in that dress. DVF knows the power of legs that can easily cross and uncross in a wrap.

. . .

Ingrid Betancourt

Betancourt was running for president of Colombia in 2002 when she was kidnapped by rebels and held in the jungle for more than six years.

When I came back to freedom, after wearing male camouflage uniforms for seven years, my first truly feminine experience was to indulge myself with a DVF wrap dress. Curiously enough, I chose a pink camouflage print for this first dress. I think I wanted to show how the bad had turned into good, how the woman in me remained intact under the prisoner’s uniform and, most of all, how, through DVF’s wrap dress, I was allowing myself to enjoy all the beauty . . . even when it had been a symbol of my captivity. Thus, I was truly a free woman.

. . .

Sarah Jessica Parker, actress

I remember the first time I ever wore a wrap dress: it was on Sex and the City, and [series costume designer] Pat Field told me she had found a vintage DVF wrap from the 1970s, and I just thought, “Wow.” It was made of a fabric I don’t think they make any more, which was a sort of heavy silk jersey – heavier than the fabrics they use now – that almost made a sound when you rubbed it in your fingers, but in a good way. I thought it was so chic. I think for Carrie, it would have represented a time in New York that meant something to her – a time of women’s liberation and all that – but for me, wearing it felt like every paragraph you have ever read from DVF about the idea of that dress: it hides every secret you want to hide. I just felt flawless.

. . .

Kelly Killoren Bensimon, model, entrepreneur and TV personality

I had just had my second daughter, and it was fashion week. My husband at the time [photographer Gilles Bensimon] was going to a fashion show and Madonna was going to be there. I wore my camo wrap dress to conceal and reveal, and I felt smokin’ hot, even though Madonna had had her baby at the same time and could do headstands and I was still full of baby weight. I will never forget meeting Madonna and how confident I felt wearing my DVF wrap dress.

. . .

Natalia Vodianova©Dreamstime

Natalia Vodianova at a Love Ball for her Naked Heart Foundation, 2008

Natalia Vodianova, model and founder of Naked Heart Foundation

I had a period of living in New York when I was obsessed with vintage clothes. In summer 2003 I bought my first wrap dress in a vintage shop on West Broadway. It was very expensive but I loved the simplicity of it, and the flattering shape and print. I had already met Diane, walking in her show, but the wrap dress was a discovery as I had worn something very different on the catwalk: long trousers and a blouse.

The wrap dress was a perfect summer dress, as it made me feel chic but as if I made no effort, which is exactly the way I like to feel when dressing casually. I was already a fan of Diane as a woman, because she treated the girls in her show with such care, but then I realised the wrap dress was just like her: beautiful, kind and compassionate. And it’s fun to wear.

I really got to know Diane later, when she kindly helped me to organise the first fundraising event for my charity, the Naked Heart Foundation. We became friends, and since then I have met many more beautiful wrap dresses, from her archive and new ones. Today I own at least 10, and wore one to the Naked Heart’s first Love Ball in Moscow in 2008. I always wear red for my charity’s events, and Diane made me a beautiful deep dark red wrap. I considered it a good omen and the charity raised $5m that night.

I believe the wrap dress is yet to uncover its full potential. The shape is so simple and strong that you can do anything with it as a base. Like Chanel’s tweed jacket or Givenchy’s petite robe noir, it is a “must have” for every woman with style. My small collection will surely be one day the pride of my daughter Neva.

. . .

Janet Robinson, non-profit human resources consultant

As a junior HR professional, I had a big presentation to make to the five most senior executives of the big NYC bank where I worked. I had rehearsed for weeks and carefully chose my outfit for the day: an emerald green-on-white animal print wrap dress worn with emerald green Amalfi sandals. (It was the “mod” 1970s and we weren’t yet into black trouser suits.) I walked into the conference room to make the presentation to encounter not only the 10 sets of human eyes but also about 10 sets of animal eyes from big game trophies mounted on the wall. It was a daunting moment but I guess the animal theme was well chosen. I fitted right in with the decor and was applauded, not vanquished.

‘Journey of a Dress’, Wilshire May Company building, Los Angeles, from January 11 to April 1

uk.dvf.com

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The history of a dress: It’s a wrap

1972: Diane von Furstenberg responds to a gap in American fashion by designing easy knit dresses.

1974: DVF creates the wrap dress.

1975: Jerry Hall models the wrap at a Diane von Furstenberg fashion show at the Pierre hotel in New York.

1976: By now in excess of 1m wrap dresses have been sold, and DVF makes the cover of Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Cybill Shepherd wears a wrap dress in Martin Scorsese’s film Taxi Driver.

Amy Adams and Christian Bale©François Duhamel

Amy Adams and Christian Bale in ‘American Hustle’

1979: DVF licenses her dress business and focuses on her cosmetics line.

1983: DVF sells her cosmetics business to the Beecham Group Ltd.

1997: The wrap dress makes a comeback as DVF returns to retail with a line for Saks Fifth Avenue.

2008: Ingrid Betancourt is pictured wearing a wrap dress for her first interview after being held captive in the Colombian jungle for more than six years by a guerrilla group.

2009: Michelle Obama wears a DVF dress for the Obama family Christmas card, shot by Annie Leibovitz.

2013: Amy Adams wears DVF wrap dresses in the film American Hustle.

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