tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg December 4, 2021 1:00pm-1:31pm EST
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 wealthiest man in the world, is that right? [laughter] diane von furstenberg may be best known as the creator of the iconic wrap dress. 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 i am not an expert on, which is fashion. you invented something called
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 design, obviously different dress, but same design as something popular 50 years ago? diane: yeah, but really the 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 made me liberated. it was the time of women's liberation, so and because it was 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. 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. at first, 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 brother of my boyfriend, whatever, and he said, you know, you should come and discover the other side of fashion, where we
make fashion. so then i discovered all about printing, how you buy artwork and how you put it in repeat, and how you print it, and you 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 heat was in demand and i came as his girlfriend, all the designers wanted to lend me clothing 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 i 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 the 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 stay 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 exactly is a wrap dress?
what was so unique about it? diane: you wrap your body. it started from these little sweaters that ballerinas wear when they get cold. it is like a japanese kimono, but very tight, and because it was jersey, you wrap it very tight. that was the difference. it is just a wrap dress. it was printed because i was in this print factory. first, it was a wrap top with a skirt. it did really well. then i said, i have got to turn it into a dress. then it became a dress. and before i knew, at the age of 26, i was making 25,000 wrap dresses a week. david: you became very famous. diane: and i became very famous. david: there was a story that
they were going to put gerald ford on the cover, but they went with you. diane: for winning his primary. yes, but that i discovered it was the month of march. the month of 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. let's go back a moment. you grew up in what country? diane: belgium. david: your mother was a survivor of auschwitz? diane: yes. david: how did she survive auschwitz? she weighed 59 pounds when she came out. diane: 49. how do you survive? i don't know. i don't know. very, very, very few people survived. she survived. she was 22. she got arrested, she was 21. she stayed 14 months and she
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. david: two. did you ever ask what it was? diane: everybody asked. then she had it removed. she had one number, then crossed in another number. for me, it was not odd because i had always seen it. i knew she had been to the camp. there was a little talk about it, but she shielded me from it all without making it a big mystery. david: during your 20's, 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 no such thing as going to the top, top, top, and continuing to go to the top. ♪
world, right? so how do you top that? diane: there are no such thing as going to the top, top, top, and continuing to go to the top. always, i think it is really important, 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 needed to buy a wrap dress. diane: everybody had a wrap dress. david: did your business go down? diane: yes. then i licensed it. life is like you go is you go. i licensed my dress business to a company that i thought had more experience than i did and
they continued to develop it. i decided i was going to start a cosmetic company. david: while you were doing that, you led the life of a socialite in the 1970's in new york, meeting with andy warhol and others. what was that life like? everybody was famous who was young was a friend of yours it seemed. 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 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. it was fun, but it is 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. take a polaroid, used to polaroid 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. he gave me one.
i bought two. the second time, he gave me one and i bought none. and when he died, i bought them all. david: let me ask you, your business is moving forward. you are in the cosmetic business. you are getting in fragrance, other things. life sounds like it 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 is very much an american dream, ok? i lived a true american dream, really. i was young. i was an experienced. i became very successful. -- i was inexperienced. 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. at that time 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 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 grand and the people in charge of 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 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 dresses were 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, am i
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 forced to look at the business model and reset the business model. david: because under covid, people were not going out in fashions and wearing fancy clothing? diane: also, stores were closed. 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. i am a very positive person. my mother was a survivor, right? as a survivor, life is what matters, right? as the daughter of a survivor, the minute i was born, i mean, 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 on new year's eve. every year, i make a resolution. so i designed my life in three columns. one is my family.
one is my business. and my brand. and 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 experiences, my resources, and using that in order to make other women be the woman they want to be. ♪ david: do you think people who are ceos 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 like to speak in general. i speak to myself. i 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 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? diane: [laughter] 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: as a feminist, 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 means we are not misses or 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 barry diller. diane: after i separated from the father of my children i met barry. we fell in love and were together for five years, but i guess, again, it was the 1970's, 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, and somehow barry 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 high line. diane: when i started the
company, again, in 1997, i say why am i renting expensive offices uptown. let me buy a little building downtown. and i came in this neighborhood full of butchers. there were only butchers. i bought a little carriage house. i decided to make that my showroom and my office, and everybody said, what are you doing there? who wants to work there? it smells so bad. i did it 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 knocked down. 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 how my relationship with the neighborhood and with the high line. -- the high line started. once we turned this neighborhood into a historical preservation, then somehow we turn around the high line, 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 high line. the high line became the number one destination for tourists. david: you are now involved helping to repair the ellis island buildings, is that right? diane: yes. first, i was on the board of the foundation of the statue of liberty. ellis island. 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. i said if i go on another board,
my husband would be upset. then he read my book. the man who wanted to get me. 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, so 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. once you have a good relationship with yourself, any other relationship is a plus. not a must. 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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>> this week on bloomberg green, lights, camera, climate action. we focus on how the entertainment industry is focusing on making itself and the world more sustainable. >> the industry spends about $200 billion on content every year and that is a huge amount of purchase power to shift economies and markets and catalyze innovation. >> all people have to do is look down at their feet at the end of the night and they see all of the plastic on the ground. an immediate thing you can do is eliminate that plastic waste as much as possible. >> through storytelling and connecting people through the stories we can talk about larger issues. so for example, there is a film about jockey screw so, but it is about how we will protect the