The iconic designer of the wrap dress wants to focus on supporting women's causes and issues.
I was so frightened," said Diane Von Furstenberg - an unexpected admission from a feisty designer who has always seemed powerful and brave in her many different aspects of supporting women.
But this was a particularly poignant moment for the creator of the world famous wrap dress. She turns 70 at her next birthday and thinks that it is time to hand over the multi-coloured reins of her fashion work and use her kudos and connections to help women in more tangible ways.
New Chief Creative Officer Diane Von Furstenberg Jonathan Saunders with Diane
In her place, comes a new fashion director.
It isn't that DVF has not brought in other talents before, but this time Scottish born Jonathan Saunders, 38, is taking over completely as Chief Creative Officer of Diane Von Furstenberg, a title that tells the same story of changes that have been seen at other fashion houses where the brands are reaching 30 years or more.
After last season, where the DVF collection was almost a retrospective of her colourful hippie-deluxe clothes of the 1970's, the new designer opted for a group of models wearing outfits that were often separates or with that look of two pieces in spirited partnership.
I immediately picked out bias-cut dresses that seemed to flow across the body and focused on the skill with which the designer mixed colour and pattern or melded it in a print.
I knew from his London shows that linear prints and clear colours had always been a Jonathan Saunders’s forte. So his collection included a cropped sweater in green with orange horizontal stripes or a silken, vertically-striped dress with lines of blue, green and orange, while a contrasting turquoise and umber scarf appeared in a triangular shape at the waist.
Suzy Menkes and Jonathan Saunders with models in Diane von Furstenberg Spring/Summer 2017
I thought the clothes - sensual but not with a hint of vulgarity - were intriguing, so I sat down with Jonathan Saunders to talk DVF after Diane.
But I don't believe she - or her spirit - will be very far away from this new venture.
Suzy Menkes (SM): Jonathan, this dress looks like two scarves put together. Is that what I am looking at?
Jonathan Saunders (JS): When Diane started the brand it was about The Dress. I started off with two scarves draped on the bias and also with drawings from old kimonos that I chopped up and re-coloured and re-interpreted, mixing them with graphic prints. I was trying to get that feeling of spontaneity in terms of mixing all these different things together. I work a lot on the mannequin and on the stand, so again, it’s like mixing all these different things together, or twisting them round the form.
SM: You have always done prints for your own collections, but mostly linear. Is this a dramatic change?
JS: What’s nice here is being able to work with colour and print so much. It's also about trying to translate it into products other than just a dress and carrying it through successfully so you can create a whole package.
Movement is also very important - how it makes you feel when you move. There is fluidity in the fabric and I think that’s how you can have that sense of ease.
SM: Are you talking about cutting on the bias, so that everything flows over the body?
JS: Exactly. When you think about a silk jersey wrap dress, the original product which Diane developed, the consumer wants more - more design and more detailing. How do we push that forward? By working with crepe designs and silk satins that are all screen printed and putting them on the bias. It still has that sense of effortless ease, but its cut is different. We also developed quite a lot of lace.
SM: Your work in the past has mostly been graphic. I’m looking at stripes, but there are also the florals. There is even a cascade or waterfall of satin. Are these new?
JS: It's definitely a new departure for me in terms of how they are mixed together. Diane is an individual; when I met the office staff, there was this wonderful eclectic mix of colours and things - slightly uncomfortable, but wonderful at the same time. That was something that really resonated with me - how I can bring the different elements of the collection together? I always worked in separates. I think it’s something that I loved doing.
SM: DVF is built on prints. Is it all about digital patterns now?
JS: Nothing is digital! It was wonderful when I first started here to discover that they are a traditional print house, We need to have craftsmanship. We screen print everything so it is still done in that beautiful way so it goes right the way through the fabrics - there’s the saturation in the colour.
SM: Diane has always said that you should dress - and live - by “being the woman you want to be”. You are coming from a different point as a male designer. You are not wearing the clothes!
JS: From a designer perspective, your imagination as a male comes from a different place. You are not thinking about how you’ll actually physically wear the clothes. But as a male designer, you are surrounded by your female friends who you talk to and you get inspired when you see their reaction, when they feel that they can wear it.
For me craftsmanship is important. I think the pricing here is incredible because it’s so democratic with the facilities that Paolo (CEO Paolo Riva) developed, and the support that he’s given me. He has enabled me to create a collection which I feel is luxurious, but is accessible with amazing prices. I was quite surprised.
SM: You are showing me something here that you think extraordinary value: leather pieces and evening wear selling at $600. That seems well-priced by designer fashion standards,
(CEO Paolo Riva later explained how he believed in getting fine work out of Chinese seamstresses, rather than demanding the lowest possible price).
SM: How do you feel about the 1970’s heritage? Diane had until recently been showing things that weren’t particularly seventies and then she suddenly went onto a seventies gig last season.
JS: You have to take the ethos of what this brand was about when it started at a time when where there were a lot of male designers doing kind of cocktail and evening wear.
Diane took the essence of that effortless way of dressing for women who were working, but who wanted something that had imagination, not a plain black wrap dress, but one that was printed, colourful and had a point of view. The garment was so simple with imagination and she also provided a product which was available to a wider audience.
I think we still have the opportunity to do that - it’s about broadening DVF so that it is a world, not just a dress. It’s about a throw-on suede wrap coat which feels luxurious, about how you bring print into everything, or about having a simple trench but think about lining and beautiful shell buttons and a belt which has contrast material.
It's about being being able to dress in an imaginative, but effortless way - like a simple lace t-shirt.
SM: So you are really immersing yourself in this experience.
JS: Because the position is Chief Creative Officer, I am involved in any new concept for the stores, the branding, the marketing and the promotion. I have an incredible partner in Paolo and the two of us are just trying to figure out how we can do things in an interesting way. It's a new challenge and exciting times for us all.
SM: Having followed your career right from the start, isn’t there an element of frustration in giving up your own line?
JS: But I’m still doing my furniture design. I studied furniture before I did fashion. I’ve got two different factories I’m working with, one in Italy and one in Slovenia. I’m doing marquetry, developing these beautiful screens and trying to get them finished for Salone del Mobile next year.
SM: I don’t know anything about this!
JS: Nobody does. And I so love that. Furniture’s wonderful because you can develop it over time, you can really think about it and get it right and you know once you’ve got the product there it can exist for 20 years.
SM: The DVF wrap dresses has existed for 42 years so I only hope your furniture will stand that long!