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tv   The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations  Bloomberg  December 1, 2021 9:00pm-9:30pm EST

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♪ david: this is my, uh, kitchen table and also my filing system. over much of the past three decades, i've been an investor. the highest calling of mankind, i've often thought, was private equity. [laughter] and then i started interviewing. i watched your interviews, so i know how to do some interviewing. [laughter] i've learned from doing my interviews how leaders make it to the top. >> i asked him how much he wanted. he said $250,000. i said fine. i did not negotiate with him and i did no due diligence. david: i have something i would like to sell. [laughter] and how they stay there. you don't feel inadequate now because being only the second
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wealthiest man in the world, is that right? [laughter] diane von furstenberg may be best known as the creator of the arconic rapturous. she has been deeply involved in philanthropy. she helped to create the high line and little island on the westside of new york. she is leading the effort to raise money for the ellis island foundation. i had a chance to sit down with her to talk about her life and dedication to philanthropy and her family. let me ask you about something i can say r.i.m not an expert on, which is fashion. you invented something cold the wrap dress 40 plus years ago. it is one of the most famous designs in the last 50 years and women are still wearing it, so tell me, were you surprised that after almost 50 years that women are still wearing the same
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design, obviously different dress, but same design as something popular 50 years ago? ? diane: yeah, but really the rapturous created me. -- wrap dress created me. because of that, i became independent. by being independent, it paid for my children's education, my house in the country, my apartment, so it made me free and may be liberated. it was the time of women's liberation, so and because it was address -- a dress, the more confident i became and the more confident i was passing on this confidence to other women with as little dress that i would go around and wrap around women's bodies.
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so in a sense now that i look back now that i'm an older woman and so on, i look back and it sums like i was a conduit, you know, a conduit for confidence, for many generations of women. david: how long did it take to develop the wrap dress? how did it develop? diane: when i was 20, i was out of college and did not do what i wanted to do, and knew i wanted to be a woman in charge, so which one will it be? i thought maybe fashion. i worked in paris for a fashion photographer's agent. that got me, wow, i discovered the world of fashion, then i met the father of a friend of the mother of my boyfriend, whatever, and he
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said, you know, you should come and discover the other side of fashion, where we make fashion as of then i discovered all about printing, how you buy artwork and how you put it in and printed and work with the colorist, and learn to do a color palette, so it was really a craft, so i did not think any of this was going to be useful to me at all, but it was very interesting. i then went to america for the first time to visit my boyfriend. my mother gave me a ticket to go to new york and visit him and i discovered new york and could not believe it. yeah, i couldn't believe it i said, i have to come back here. and also, while i was in new york, because my boyfriend then was a young, very attractive prince, so he was very much in demand in new york. he was very good-looking. because he wasn't demand and i
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came as his girlfriend, all the designers wanted to lend me close and blah blah blah. i stayed about a month, i think. i discovered so much. i discovered new york. i discovered all of these young designers. and when i went back, all he could think about is how do i get back to new york, how do i get back to new york? and when i went back to work in a factory, all of a sudden, i looked at everything and said, there is my door. there is an opportunity. let me try to make some easy, easy little dresses that i can go and sell. and that is how i started. i would stayed late at night with the pattern maker and make some samples and so on. david: for those watching who may not be fashion experts, what
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exactly is a wrap dress? diane: you wrap your body. it started from these little sweaters that ballerinas where when they get -- wear when they get cold. it is like a japanese kimono, but very tight, and because it was that, you wrap it tight, and that is the difference. it is just a wrap dress. it was printed because i was in this print factory. it did really well. i said i have to turn it into address, then it became address, and before i knew, at the age of 26, i was making 25,000 wrap dresses a week. david: you became very famous.
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there was a story that they were going to put gerald ford on the cover, but they went with you. diane: yes. it was march. march is usually when they want subscription renewals, and so they would think that maybe i would be a more attractive woman on the cover. diane: ok. david: ok. let's go back. you grew up in what country? diane: belgium. david: your mother was a survivor of auschwitz? diane: yes. david: she weighed 59 pounds when she came out. diane: 49. how do you survive? i don't know. i don't know. very few people survived. she was 22. she got arrested, she was 21. she stated 14 months and she
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really got arrested very late, may 1944, but she worked while she was there, at a factory. when you were working, they won't kill you, so that is the first thing, and then after that, there was the famous death march and they went and walked to another camp. a lot of people died on the march. she thought she was going to die on the march. she didn't. after that, as they were losing the war, they pushed back more and then she ended up in another camp, and then one day, the germans had gone and the russians came and raped every girl, then after that, the americans arrived. david: your mother had a tattoo at auschwitz. diane: two.
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david: did you ever ask what it was? diane: everybody asked. she had one number, then crossed in another number. for me, it was an odd because i had always seen it. i knew she had been to the camp. there was a little talk about it, but she did not make it a big mystery. david: you made a lot of money by any standard and you're are the queen of the fashion world, how do you top that? diane: there is nothing but continuing to go to the top. ♪
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david: so you come to new york. you are the princess of new york because you are very young in your 20's. you made a lot of money by any normal standard.
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you are the queen of the fashion world, right? so how do you top that? diane: there are no such thing as going to the top and continuing to go to the top. also, i always make a point to people that sometimes when you are at the very top, that time i was on the top of newsweek and on the front page of the wall street journal and everybody was buying my dresses, and i was acclaimed as a big success. i myself already knew that things were so easy, because in a way i had saturated the market, you know? david: everybody had a wrap dress and nobody else had to buy a wrap dress. diane: everybody had a wrap dress. david: did your business go down? diane: idolize instead. you go is you go. i licensed my business to accompany that i thought had more experience than i did and
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they continued to develop it. i decided i was going to start a cosmetic company. david: while you were doing that, you let the life of a socialite in the 1970's in new york, meeting with antiwar and other people -- andy warhol and other people. what was that like? diane: new york city in the 1970's is many things. one thing, it was very dirty. it was very dangerous. it was very cheap. therefore, a lot of artists were here. it was a very exciting time. it was a time that people wanted freedom. we thought, our generation thought that we invented freedom , but of course we didn't. it was fun. there were a lot of creative people, andy warhol was everywhere, and there were a lot of other people, but it is
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always fun when you are young. david: andy warhol said i will paint a picture of you. was that happening a lot? diane: andy warhol did my first portrait. he was looking for a white wall. he would take a photo and use the photo and paint from there. he needed a white wall. in my home they had no white walls, so we went to the kitchen , and because the white wall in my kitchen was so tiny, i lifted my arms and it was the first time he painted me, then he painted me later for a show he was planning to do in the 1980's called beauties. david: did he give you the paintings? diane: he gave me the first one. i bought two. the second time, he gave me one and i bought none. and when he died, i bought them
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all. david: let me ask you, your business is moving forward. your cosmetics business is moving forward. life is great. everything is well. at some point, did all the businesses go down and after a while it was not so good? diane: there are always ups and downs, ups and downs. i had the first phase of my life , very much an american dream, ok? i lived a true american dream, really. i was young. i was an experience. i became very successful. after that, you know, i had other things, and finally, i ended up selling the cosmetics, then of course, by then, my children are teenagers. they went to boarding school. i decided i went back to europe. i lived in paris for a few years, then i came back here, and then by then, my brand was
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really, like bad. it was in discount stores. everybody had done everything. that was a difficult time for me, to see, because everything until then was great and wonderful, even when it wasn't great and wonderful, it was still exciting, but then coming back, i mean, and seeing the brand and the brand, they did not care. there was no spirit. there was no messaging, nothing. that was really difficult. and, i don't know if it is a result of that, but at the same time, i also had cancer. i had a cancer at the base of my tongue. i think it has something to do
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with the fact i could not express myself. anyways. i dealt with that, and i also dealt with taking back my name and starting again. david: you started all over the company is dvf, your initials. that company began to re-create some things you did before, including the wrap dress, and it turns out it was more popular than before. was that a surprise that wrap dress was still so popular? diane: you know when it is your life, i mean, you know, it is one day after another day after another day. it is only when you look back that you are surprised. you look back and have time to say that was great. when you are living it, you are trying to survive. a young woman, two children, i separated so quickly from my husband, then a lot to do, running a company, so i did not have the time to think,,
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surprised? david: what does dvf now do? diane: it has been many, many products over the years. after covid and all of the change, you know, covid was also a moment of resetting, right? so, i don't want, i can't say take advantage of something as negative as covid, but we were taught to look at the business model and reset the business model. david: because under covid, people were not going out in fashions and fancy clothing? diane: it is a lot of different things at the same time, and of course, the business online, so it was a moment to reset. david: how is the business today? diane: it is being reset. it is interesting.
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i am a very positive person. my mother was a survivor, right? as a survivor, life is what matters, right? as the daughter of the some live or -- a survivor, the minute i was born -- she was not supposed to survive. i was not supposed to be born. and yet, i was born. i realized the moment of my birth was already a victory. anything that happened after that was a plus. david: the company run today is a privately owned company. have you ever thought of taking your company public? diane: no, but right now is the legacy moment of my life, right? now is the time that you look back at your life and i am happy to see that somehow it is coherent. i was born a new year's eve. every year, i make a resolution. so i designed my life in three parts. one is my family.
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one is my business. and my brand. in one is me. so looking back now on my life, i look at my family, you know, my two children, five grandchildren, and i am very proud of them, of who they are, the people they are, that they are not banal. they have fun, they are interesting, they are generous, and they care. then there is my brand. there also i had to reset the brand and make sure it grows. sometimes when you grow, you lose your initial spirit, your initial reason to be, and then the third part, me, is about the impact, using all the things i have, my voice, my experiences, my knowledge, my memories, my
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experiences, my resources, and using that in order to make other women be the woman they want to be. ♪ david: you think people should speak out on public issues if something bad is happening or something good is happening? do you like to speak out on public issues? diane: i'd like to speak in general. i speak to myself. i'd like to speak. and i do believe words are powerful and if you have a voice, you should speak, yes. david: so from reading your books, eight books, a lot of
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books, you said in one of the books what you wanted to do was live a man's life in a woman's body. what you meant by that was what? [laughter] diane: it meant i wanted to be able to do everything a man does, and yet, enjoy being a woman, yes. david: because men could start businesses and do other things? diane: yes, yes. men can call a woman and do all kinds of things. why can't a woman do that? that was the most important thing for me, to be a liberated woman, but i was part of that generation. david: you were an admirer of gloria steinem? diane: yes, for me as a feminist, she was my idol. she was my idol. now she is a friend. and i remember she created that magazine called ms, which
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means we are not misses where mrs. when i separated from my husband, the prince, i joked and said, i gave up the title of princess for the title of ms. ♪ david: so you and your husband separated, ultimately divorced. a long time ago, and you married mary diller. diane: after i separated from the father of my children i met very. we fell in love and were together for five years, but i guess, again, it was the 1970's,
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and it was important for me to experience, and so, we separated and i lived my life, but we kept very close. i also kept very close to my first husband come in some how very and i knew we would end up together. about 20 years ago, we got married. david: both of you together have been extremely successful in the business world, and also in philanthropy. let me ask you about the philanthropy. you and your husband helped to create the highline. diane: when i started the company, again, in 1997, i say why, renting expensive offices uptown. we buy a little building downtown and i came in this
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neighborhood full of butchers. i bought a little carriage house. i decided to make that my showroom in my office, and everybody said, what are you doing there? who wants to work there? it smells so bad. i didn't anyway. when you move to a new neighborhood, you meet your neighbors, and i met these two young guys who had a dream, and the dream was to transform this elevated railway that was abandoned and turn it into a park. it was going to be knockdown. those two guys had this dream, and they saw my studio and they said, do you think we could do a fundraising in your studio. that is my relationship with the
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neighborhood and with the highline. once we turned this neighborhood into a historical preservation, then somehow we turn around the highline, and it was very difficult because all the developers wanted the real estate, the same developers by the way now are so proud to be on the highline. the highline became the number one destination for tourists. david: you are now involved helping to prepare the ellis island buildings, is that right? diane: yes. first, i was on the board of the foundation of the statue of liberty. the first thing i did was raise money to create the museum for the statue of liberty, so i got very close to lady liberty. i did not want to do it.
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if i go on another board, my husband would be upset. then he read my book. in my book, he read my mother had written me a note saying, god save me so that i can give you life. by giving you life, you gave me my life back. you are therefore my torch of freedom. so he underlined that and said, you see, you have to come and help the statue of liberty. david: the hardest thing in life i have often said is to be happy but you seem like a happy person. diane: it is like nature. nothing ever stops good you could be super happy one minute then something happens, so it is just living. it is the joy of life. david: for any young woman watching this that wants to be the next diane von furstenberg, what would you recommend? diane: the most important thing in life is the relationship you have with yourself.
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once you have a good relationship with yourself, any other relationship is a plus. the second advice is to be as true to yourself as you possibly can, and it is not easy, and you have to accept things you may not like, but the more you can be you, the happier you will be. ♪
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