How I Spend It: Diane von Furstenberg on love letters
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To watch Diane von Furstenberg talking personal taste from her Connecticut home, tune in to the FT Weekend Digital Festival at 3.40pm GMT on 19 March. Click here to buy tickets to the festival
I was lucky to buy my house in the country in Connecticut when I was 26 with the first money from my wrap dresses, and now, 47 years on, every single thing in it is an expression of love.
There are coins from my father that I sometimes give away to others for good luck. It usually works, even though the last one I gave to Hillary Clinton didn’t. There are paintings, including pieces by Andy Warhol, who would come to my house and give me a tiny little painting of flowers or of Studio 54 tickets. When I married my husband Barry [Diller], he presented me with 26 wedding bands because he had waited 26 years for me. They are each exactly the same. Actually, there are 25 of them now, because I gave one away. I’m not sure if Barry knows. But it doesn’t matter. One went to a lady I met in Mexico at a woman’s conference: her child had been kidnapped and I wanted to do something for her but didn’t know what to do, so I gave her the ring I was wearing. The rings themselves are not inscribed, but Barry wrote me a lovely note to go with them.
I have an entire cabinet full of signed books by authors, among them Alberto Moravia and Truman Capote. I also love to give books. There’s nothing I love more than books. When I was a little girl I used to go from room to room with all of my books in my hands because I didn’t know which one to choose. Then one day I was asked what I wanted to do and I said, I don’t know, what can you do if you like books, and they told me, well, you can be a librarian. But the librarian at my school had bad breath and so I didn’t think that I wanted to be a librarian.
For me the token of love is not only the gift, it has to have meaning. I like to give things that are made purposefully for an individual or that will remind them of a shared memory or of whatever our complicity may be. I have a friend Konstantin Kakanias, who is an artist, an illustrator, and he has made plates depicting me throughout my life – me doing this, me doing that. And so I commissioned him to do a whole set of customised plates for each one of my children and it’s the best present I ever gave them. My son Alexander’s favourite is one of him as a little boy playing the businessman; it’s very cute.
But above all, for me, the most important tokens of love you can give are words. The one thing I insist on giving and being given by others are letters. I forced my poor children to write letters to me when they were little. I trained them to. It doesn’t come naturally. At Christmas I write serious letters to all the members of my family and if I have close friends to stay, then I also write to them. Everybody also has to write a letter to me and I love it if the letters I receive are illustrated. Recently, my granddaughter Talita made a beautiful painting of eyes and lips – she said it was a self-portrait but that as she was painting it she was thinking of me and how much we look alike. I tend to receive a lot of representations of lips. I did lip prints and the lip is a logo that I have used forever. I keep beside me on my work desk a lip made out of glass by my other granddaughter when she was at summer camp.
I have the love letters that my parents wrote to each other during the war with the blue line because it was the occupation and so everything went through the censor. And I have the love letters that I got from every one of my boyfriends and husbands. In addition to writing letters, I’ve kept a diary throughout my life. I write it in French. I never went to therapy and I think that one of the reasons is because my diary has been my friend. I know that someone might read them one day, if they can decipher the handwriting. Looking back through them, I find that no matter where I open the page it always says that I am at a turning point. So it looks like all my life, all I did was turning.
Every year I buy a new Smythson diary and into the old one go all the letters from the previous year. I open my diary right here and I see what my husband wrote to me just over a year ago: “My honey, no strife, no struggle, that’s my Christmas wish, we all need you strong, purposeful and happy.” That’s recognition. Or my son: “I will always put the family first, Alex.” Or this is from Talita: “You are so much more to me than my grandmother. You are more to me than anyone. I love you unconditionally forever. Your strength, courage, kindness and love.” I guess they love me.
Own It: the Secret to Life by Diane von Furstenberg (Phaidon) is published on 8 March at £9.95
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