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DVF: The Importance of a Positive Figurehead

April 18, 2020

As is such in most other highly lucrative industries, the managerial side of the fashion industry is historically male-dominant, particularly in the womenswear sector. The overwhelmingly male executive collective is a key component of the industry that has been in existence since the inception of its contemporary model during the industrial revolution; according to Joanne Entwistle in ‘The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress, and Modern Social Theory’, “under the factory system existing gender roles were reproduced – women and children were employed to operate power looms and men supervised. This division of labour was also a division of pay and status since men were rewarded with higher wages… Industrialization therefore reproduced unequal gender relations characteristic of pre-industrial times as well as the gendered division between ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’” (213). This idea of gender division and inequality is still highly prevalent in the modern fashion industry; while there are a number of successful female designers in the public eye, many brands and labels are run behind the scenes by male executives, often profiting greatly from these female designers’ successes.

Consumers have become increasingly scrutinizing throughout the years and have judged the actions and behaviors of these male leaders, questioning whether these men are properly motivated and qualified enough to make decisions about goods being produced for a female clientele. Individuals such as Karl Lagerfeld have come under fire for their expressed attitudes toward the women they collaborate and interact with – during the widespread ‘me too’ movement, Lagerfeld expressed that he was “fed up” with models complaining about being groped and publicly stated “if you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery” – which have disgusted consumers worldwide and led them to re-evaluate who they choose to give their money to when shopping. One designer/public figure that I believe is a genuine, positive, inspiring presence amongst this collective of toxic, profit-driven male leaders is Diane Von Furstenberg. Her self-named brand gained popularity in the 1970s when she debuted her signature jersey wrap dress, which then became a cult classic. After fizzling out somewhat and losing its presence within the popular fashion realm, the brand was re-launched in 1997 with a renewed, more contemporary approach. The brand’s popularity and success then increased drastically once again and its integrity was heavily reinforced as a result of Von Furstenberg’s incredibly positive public image.

Having been named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015, Von Furstenberg is, without a doubt, an immensely influential figure; this can be attributed to an overwhelming number of factors. Von Furstenberg hold a board position for Vital Voices, a non-governmental organization that supports female leaders and entrepreneurs around the world. Vital Voices operates programs that help women develop and grow as leaders, following the unique five pillar leadership model they have developed over the course of twenty years of partnering with successful female leaders. Von Furstenberg also has her own foundation, the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation that she created in 2010 that, in part, supports honorees at her annual DVF Awards. These awards honor and provide financial support to women who have displayed leadership, strength, and courage in their commitment to their respective causes, not just within the fashion industry. Past honorees include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, ballerina Misty Copeland, model and Kode With Klossy scholarship creator Karlie Kloss, and many more.

In addition to the aforementioned organizations and foundations with which von Furstenberg is involved, her brand’s website includes a section entitled ‘DVF Philanthropy’ with a subsection entitled ‘DVF Gives’, outlining several organizations actively supported by von Furstenberg herself and the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation; these organizations include the International Rescue Committee, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, all of which fall beyond the realm of fashion. Von Furstenberg’s commitment to causes not affiliated with her personal brand or the industry within which it operates reveals the innate nature of her philanthropic motivation and authenticates her altruistic motivations.

Another organization that von Furstenberg is heavily affiliated with is the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA), a not-for-profit fashion trade association founded in 1962. Prior to becoming President of the CFDA in 2006, and subsequently being named the Chairwoman in 2015, Von Furstenberg received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005; this award ‘recognizes the outstanding contributions made to American Fashion by individuals from all areas of the industry and related arts’ and is presented annually at the CFDA’s annual Fashion Awards. Von Furstenberg stepped down from her position just last year and was succeeded by Tom Ford effective January 1, 2020, but remains active as a member of the association’s main committee. During her time as chairwoman, von Furstenberg appeared in a video produced by the National Resources Defense Council [NRDC] regarding their Clean by Design initiative; von Furstenberg spoke on behalf of the CFDA, the lead partner of the Clean by Design initiative, about the importance of understanding the origins of the textiles used to create clothing in improving the sustainability and reducing the environmental impact of the fashion industry. In adopting this initiative both on behalf of the CFDA as a whole as well as on behalf of her personal brand, von Furstenberg has set a clear example for the rest of the industry and established sustainability as one of her key values.Needless to say, von Furstenberg has made an extraordinarily deep impact on not only the fashion industry but also the larger human community. Her efforts in empowering female leaders have not gone unnoticed by the press or the people, which is why von Furstenberg is continually heralded as an extremely influential figure. I, personally, have always loved and looked up to her as a designer and as a person, and throughout my research for this response have become increasingly moved by her selflessness and compassion. It is incredible to see how many different organizations and individuals she is able to support, and how equitably she is able to offer that support to each. She is, by all accounts, an amazing role model, and has had an incredibly lasting impact on the fashion industry. Having such a positive figurehead has only strengthened the integrity and image of the brand, and it is incredibly rare for to see the brand’s integrity questioned or critiqued by the media.

[USC COMM 396, Trope]

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