A chaise lounge chat with Diane Von Furstenberg

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Diane Von Furstenberg unwrapped

Diane Von Furstenberg on the rediscovery of wraps by another generation of ladies.

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For a woman who hasn't visited Australia for 31 years, Diane Von Furstenberg certainly seems to suit it.

Lying on a chaise longue, framed by the backdrop of Sydney's winning trifecta, the undisputed heavyweight of women's fashion is utterly resplendent - the queen of all.

"What I love about Australia, it's the last frontier, it's the frontier of hope. It's water, it's an island. The people are happy, the light is wonderful, the nature's wonderful - all of those things that I like," says the woman who designed one of fashion's iconic designs - the wrap dress.

The wrap was born in 1972 - when Von Furstenberg was just 22.

"It's had an incredible life... It's so strange... I don't think it has ever happened for a dress to have lived so many generations. It's quite remarkable, I can't really explain it myself - other than it's incredibly flattering, it's incredibly easy, it's a dress that allows you to be you - but the best of you."

It's a testimony to its versatility that the dress is favoured by all sorts of women - including the wife of her political nemesis.

Ann Romney stepped out in a purple number last week and a conspicuous absence of a press release, as appears like clockwork when Michelle Obama wears her dresses, followed from the DVF offices.

Von Furstenberg, a staunch and energetic Democrat, waves away the insinuation. "Oh I loved it!," she says of the outfit choice. "They've become so vicious, I love the idea that both ladies [wear my designs] - I am thrilled. I prefer Obama to win, but that does not mean that I do not like the other people."

"They are both extraordinary, wonderful women - Michelle is very smart - she used to be her husband's boss." As for Ann, she says that those who know her are impressed by her strong family life and her savviness.

"To be the wife of a candidate," she shakes her head, "is hard work".

As the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Von Furstenberg has worked hard to address the problems of underage and underweight models - "and diversity" she adds. But her catwalks look as typical as any - stick thin, very young models are the norm.

She admits more needs to be done to rebalance the body image. "I am going to make more of a point of that - at least in my shows I make my girls smile. I am a little concerned about what we impose on women."

The worrying obsession with thinness, that is.

"Well fitness is one thing, fitness is great, it's about strengthening, empowering, eating healthy... The thinness is something that for the longest time I ignored and pooh-poohed, but now I realise that it is problem and it is absurd." She spits the word out.

"Not just in young girls, even in women my age, sometimes I hug people and there is nothing but bones, so I want to fight that. In my fight for empowering women, I want to make that a point, I want to emphasis being who you are and being the best you are in are instead of emaciated, which I think is awful."

To that end, she meditates, does yoga, goes hiking - and makes a point of refusing plastic surgery, of deciding to live her face. "I would rather be me and every trace of my face reflects my life and what I've done". That others in the industry don't share her belief is yet another string in her empowering bow.

It is not Bondi Beach and the harbour that brings the grand dame of fashion from New York's Meatpacking District to Sydney.

Nor is it Australian fashion. "I don't know much about Australian fashion, except, you know, Uggs - and all of the cosy and comfortable things."

What about the high end, I ask? "Like who?"

Her first standalone DVF fashion store in Australia opened in Westfield in 2010 - and its competition clearly isn't worrying her.

The 65-year-old is here to launch the DVF Penthouse at Hayman Island - the interiors of which she managed to design without having set foot on the Island. "It was a little challenging", she admits.

But she's also here to sell a message. And the message is as optimistically on-brand as ever.

"I love women more than I love fashion. And I love fashion more as a tool. A thing that will allow us to be the woman we want to be."

Wearing a blue and white kaftan from her resort collection, Von Furstenberg is the first to extol the empowering virtues of fashion. She rattles off positive maxims with no sign that they are forced or insincere. "We sell confidence. And that's what I do... Just dream of who you want to be and be that."

But, like it or not, the iconic wrap dress will forever more define the Belgian-born, high-cheek-boned girl who married -and divorced - a German prince. She is as confounded by its enduring success as anyone. "Who would have ever thought that so many years later that one dress would still live on - and that there's no way you can say my name and not have the wrap dress in the same sentence?"

I sense that Von Furstenberg, after 40 years in the business, is only just warming up. How, after all these years, does she stay inspired? "Because women inspire me," she says quietly, with a coy nod, like it is our secret alone.

And with that, she turns to the camera, once again working the European charm that has served her so brilliantly.



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