Diane von Furstenberg on Her Women's Nominee Lunch and Male "Abuse of Power"
The designer-activist also talks her Oscar week agenda (with husband Barry Diller) and two A-list fetes.
For more than 40 years, fashion designer, activist and jet-setting woman of the world Diane von Furstenberg has been Oscar weekend’s most formidable hostess. Swooping into L.A. after New York Fashion Week (where she presents her seasonal collections and serves as chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America), she and husband Barry Diller throw an annual Saturday picnic at their Coldwater Canyon home that is one of the most coveted (and casual) invitations in town. (He’s been known to wear cargo shorts and she one of her iconic wrap dresses.)
Since 2014, von Furstenberg has stepped up her Hollywood role, hosting an additional lunch for female Oscar nominees (this year’s was Feb. 28), which dovetails with her legacy as a female trailblazer on Seventh Avenue and her current passion for philanthropy. In celebration of International Women’s Day, she will be opening up her New York headquarters March 7-11 for talks and panels, and a portion of proceeds from sales of DVF #InCharge merch will benefit a program for female entrepreneurs led by the nonprofit Vital Voices. On April 13 at the United Nations, she’ll host the ninth annual DVF Awards honoring Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor and — if she can get time away from shooting Big Little Lies — Reese Witherspoon.
During New York Fashion Week, she presented her fall 2018 collection Feb. 11, welcoming a new creative director, Nathan Jenden, and revealing the new face of her brand, granddaughter Talita von Furstenberg, 18, who grew up in Los Angeles and now attends Georgetown. We caught up with Diane to chat Oscar memories, what makes a successful party and Hollywood in the time of Time’s Up.
I only went to the Oscars once, and it's the least glamorous thing, all these people moving seats. I wore my own dress. It was 1979, when Barry, who was head of Paramount, had Heaven Can Wait nominated for nine awards. When we first had our annual pre-Oscars Saturday picnic it was like 10 people in Malibu. Then we started hosting the party with Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter at our house in Beverly Hills — he invited all his advertisers and it got big, too big.
This year there’s no more Graydon, but we decided to have it anyway. Barry’s office organizes it. The picnic is the nicest because there are no photographers, people bring their kids and put their blankets on the lawn. Hopefully, it’s somewhat restful. I have friends in the industry from many different generations who come — Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper. What makes a successful party is if you as the hostess manage to have fun and behave as a guest, and I do. You want to put people at ease, and also have enough food and drink. We always have healthy things.
For four years, I’ve also been having my women’s lunch for the female nominees. No one ever thought of doing that before — can you believe that? It started in 2014, the year that my “Journey of a Dress” exhibition came to the May Co. Building, the future home of the Academy Museum, for which I serve on the board. Anne Hathaway and I co-hosted a lunch for the female Oscar nominees that year, then the following year we started doing it at my house in the garden. It was very low-key and people loved it. We talk about woman things.
This year, I hosted it with Salma Hayek because she is very much an activist, so I thought of her, and we knew we would have a lot to talk about. My brand is a symbol of liberation. For 40-plus years, I’ve been talking about women and giving women confidence and talking in a provocative way — and I’m a feminist. Have I had bad experiences with men? Of course, who hasn’t? But no one wants to be a victim, and you don’t talk about it until people start to talk about it, and all of a sudden you remember things that happened to you. I only had three bosses before I started my own company and they all harassed me. I took it for granted that if you are a woman you got groped by men. But the world is changing, every industry is changing, including fashion and Hollywood.
For the first time, we have a female cinematographer nominated, Rachel Morrison. We should have had more female directors — Patty Jenkins is so cool — but I hope Greta Gerwig wins. (Lady Bird is my husband’s movie and it was so sweet.) I also liked Mudbound and Three Billboards and I, Tonya with Allison Janney as the mother. I put a printout of the female Oscar nominees in the windows of all my stores to give exposure to them.
The truth is, we’re not putting the cap back on. Women are unleashed. I see the young girls, my granddaughters, and they are not taking that shit. A lot of men, including my husband, say, "Oh, but men won’t be able to flirt." It’s very different flirting and being treated as a piece of meat. That’s an abuse of power. Rosanna Arquette said she pushed Harvey Weinstein away and he said she was difficult to work with as a result. That becomes your reputation and it’s terrible. I never had any bad dealings with him because I was too old.
Truthfully, this issue has been going on since eternity and at least we are finally talking about it. Men in Hollywood are scared shitless right now. What’s great is Reese Witherspoon is only hiring women, Kerry Washington is only hiring women. Reese, she started at age 16, a blonde from the South — imagine all the pigs she had to deal with. Or Kerry, same thing, being treated like some babe. And in fashion, the modeling industry is all about making people feel small, and Mario Testino and Terry Richardson, they deserve what they are getting.
Now, women are taking charge. The way forward for me is about leadership but also legacy, because I’m 71 and I won’t be here forever. I have to leave the legacy clear so it continues, because making women feel confident is my biggest achievement in life.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.