Such is the cockiness of youth that Diane von Furstenberg once took her success for granted.
"I didn't think I would be working at my age," said the 64-year-old designer, lounging in her hotel suite at the Halekulani while in town this week for the grand opening of her DVF boutique at Ala Moana Center and to introduce her fragrance, Diane.
"I was successful when I was so young that I boasted I would retire before I was 30. I retired in my 40s, but went back to work."
Today, curled with her legs folded under her on a plush sofa, barefoot in fishnet stockings and wearing a Hatsu dress from her resort 2012 collection, she has the relaxed ease of a woman with nothing more to prove to those who admire her style, strength and longevity in an industry that is still, essentially, a men's club.
In addition to her business success, she's married to billionaire media executive Barry Diller. She doesn't need to work but does so to have a voice, which she puts to use in service of industry and humanitarian causes.
As president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, she worked with Vogue's Anna Wintour and the city of New York to launch the first Fashion's Night Out in 2009 to help the industry weather the first year of the recession.
Last year, she created the DVF Awards, presented annually to four women who display leadership, strength and courage in their commitment to women's causes. Recipients are each granted $50,000 to further their work. She also serves as director of the private Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation, which provides philanthropic support to nonprofits involved in community-building, education, human rights, arts, health and the environment.
That's all in addition to her business endeavors. At this stage in her career, she doesn't keep regular "office hours" but says she works constantly.
"There's no typical day for me," she said. "I'm very involved in everything. I start my days early. I wake up with the sun and make my European phone calls and check my emails. This year, I've been traveling a lot. I don't think I've worked harder in my life than in the past two months. I've been on a tour because I just launched my perfume. It's been crazy."
Her tour took her from New York to Paris, several European cities, Brazil and back to the states. After spending Thanksgiving on Kauai with her family, where she plans to "hike, read, sleep and swim," she'll hit the road again, this time to China, where she has four boutiques in Beijing and one in Shanghai.
"They love me in China. I've been there many times and I love Asian women because they're very strong," she said. "I think China is interesting and fascinating because they're growing so fast and it feels like America used to feel. It feels like the potential is huge."
WITH THAT statement I was lurched back into the past. In spite of her European accent -- from being born and raised in Brussels -- I've come to think of Diane von Furstenberg in terms of her quintessentially American brand, born in New York in 1970, when she arrived with a suitcase full of jersey dresses.
A few years later, she would develop the jersey wrap dress that sealed her fame and has endured as one of the most iconic designs of the last century.
The dress became a symbol of power and independence for a generation of women who were raised with the notion they had to don pantsuits and blazers and become more like men to succeed in the office.
Von Furstenberg's message was that any woman could work as hard as a man while retaining her femininity, which is also the message behind her new fragrance, which features the essence of frangipani, or plumeria.
"Because it's the first of my fragrances, I wanted it to be the mother fragrance, timeless and classic. I wanted to remind young girls of the power of perfume that women have used as a weapon through antiquity.
"I always wanted to be a woman, and that's my style," she said. "I design things that are easy, but with sophistication."
By 1976, she had sold more than a million of her wrap dresses and was featured on the cover of Newsweek.
She sold her company in 1983, thinking she was ready for retirement, but aside from starting a publishing house, she needed an outlet for her energy.
"It wasn't that I missed fashion, but I missed work. It was a very difficult period and I got cancer on my tongue, I think, because I wasn't able to express myself."
Radiation took care of the cancer, but she kept looking for opportunities. With some wrangling, she relaunched her business in 1997 after realizing "young, hip girls were buying my dresses in vintage stores or wearing their mother's or grandmother's dress."
"The second time has been interesting. My business is more international today. It's a different world and my biggest effort is going into making accessories."
And the wrap dress will continue to be a staple of her collections.
"People collect them. It continues to be very attractive to a very young girl, so I always will make a few."
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