Oprah Talks to Diane von Furstenberg
DVF: Egon [Eduard Egon Prinz zu Fürstenberg] and I met at university, and soon after he surprised me with a ring, and we got engaged. That night I got pregnant. I found myself engaged to the best catch in Europe. I was embarrassed about that—I didn't want people to think I got pregnant on purpose. My mother lived in Geneva, and I went to see a doctor there to terminate my pregnancy. I told my mother, and she said, "Are you crazy? You can't do it without telling him." I thought that was fair. So I sent him a telegram, which was in code, because how do you tell that in a telegram? The name we had for my period was Sophie, so I said, "Sophie's late, but don't worry, I can take care of it." And he sent me a telegram in return.
OW: Which you have to this day.
DVF: I do. It said, "Arrange wedding for July 15." And we got married and came to New York. He came by plane, but I took the boat. I wanted to come slowly. I wanted to think about my life and my future.
OW: You purposefully came by boat!
DVF: I was so seasick, and I also had morning sickness, so I didn't really enjoy it!
OW: But you arrived. And what was that time like?
DVF: We were very much the It couple.
OW: Was the life of a princess everything you had imagined?
DVF: I never had time to imagine. Soon there was a scandalous story about us in a magazine, and on the cover was a beautiful picture of the two of us and our apartment, and it said, "The couple that has everything—but is everything enough?" I read this article and saw the pictures—I looked at us, and I didn't like what I saw. I thought, I can't take responsibility for us as a couple. I can only take responsibility for me. I felt then that we would have to separate.
OW: You knew that.
OW: Did you know that because of the way you were raised? Throughout your book you talk about what a major influence your mother was—how she made you strong. How did her life define yours?
DVF: She lost her freedom. She was in captivity for 13 months, in Auschwitz and then Neustadt-Glewe. When she came back, she weighed 59 pounds. It's a miracle she survived, a miracle I was born. I am the fruit of what my mother lived. She made me so strong. She made me independent. She taught me that fear was not an option. If I was afraid of the dark, she would lock me in the closet until I realized that there was no reason to be afraid. And the other lesson she taught me is never, ever, ever think of yourself as a victim. No matter what.
OW: Says the mother who survived Auschwitz.
DVF: Yes. After she died, a cousin of mine gave me a whole bunch of family pictures, and among them was an envelope that said "Lily 1944." Lily was my mother. Inside were two little notes she had written on the truck after she was arrested. She threw them in the street, hoping somebody would deliver them to her parents. And someone did, and there they were in my hands. She said, please take care of yourselves, because when I come back I want a beautiful wedding and I want you to be there and I want you to be in good health. And she said, I don't know where I'm going, but I want you to know I'm leaving with a smile.
DVF: That's who my mother was.
OW: She taught you to be strong, but in the book you describe a time when you were not strong—you were in a relationship that silenced you. I think his name was Alain. You lost your voice with him.
DVF: I did. He was an artist, and I thought I would be his muse. It was fine for a while. We had a great time, but I gave up my identity, my work. When he met me, I had my big apartment and leopard rugs and sexy shoes, and he loved that—that's who he fell in love with. But then he tried to change me into something smaller, quieter, and I let him, and by the time I was finished changing, he didn't want me anymore.
OW: During that time, how did not having your voice manifest in your life? Everybody wore your wrap dress, including me back in 1974. They were affordable—
OW: But then it went away.
DVF: We had saturated the market. I sold the company, which was reduced to practically nothing. Those were the years I lost my voice. And when I lost my voice, I got cancer of the tongue. That was 20 years ago.
OW: Wow. That's amazing.
DVF: But then 15 years ago, I started to see that young, hip girls were buying my wrap dresses in vintage shops. That's when I started again. A completely different generation was buying the dress.
OW: I bet it was like a musician hearing his songs after years and years. And now the dress is back again in full force.
DVF: The exhibit shows a photograph of Mrs. Obama, who wore the dress for her first Christmas card as first lady. I didn't know—it was Annie Leibovitz who told me. So I called the White House, and I said, "May I have a Christmas card?" And they sent it to me.
OW: And then American Hustle.
DVF: Yes, American Hustle. The wrap dress was practically a character in the movie.