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26 Apr

Diane von Furstenberg Is the Toast of Brussels

“It’s truly going back to the roots,” Diane von Furstenberg said Tuesday as a black sedan ferried her from the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken back to her hotel in central Brussels, a stone’s throw from the Fashion & Lace Museum that just opened an exhibition dedicated to her.

It was a poignant homecoming for the Belgian dressmaker, who spoke to 70 grade-12 students at the general public school she attended until age 13, following within the footsteps of her mother, Liliane, a Holocaust survivor ultimately banished from study when “racial laws” got here into effect during World War II.

“I told them how essential the college was to me and to my mother,” she related. “I hope I managed to encourage 20 of them.”

The designer was the toast of the town on Tuesday night when Mayor Philippe Close hosted a dinner in her honor at Brussels Town Hall, the medieval landmark lording over Grand-Place, the foremost square.

Guests including her travel buddy Christian Louboutin, Italian creator Giuliano da Empoli, film producer Fabiola Beracasa Beckman and antiques, art and interiors guru Axel Vervoordt were invited to step onto the balcony and gaze upon the artfully lit buildings — a privilege normally afforded only to foreign heads of state.

Talita von Furstenberg and John Elkann

Constance Le Hardy

Close raised a glass in tribute to von Furstenberg’s perseverance, intuition, style and “sense of beauty.”

The designer noted her parents were married in a neighboring wood-lined room at the town hall. On the dinner there, two long tables were laden with flowers and tiny, battery-powered wire sculptures of flowers and dragonflies. Waiters donned bowler hats topped with big red lips — a frequent print motif of the designer’s on view on the museum.

The compact exhibition, on view until Jan. 7, 2024, suggests that von Furstenberg is emblematic of designers from the Wallonia region — less famous than their Antwerp cousins, but globally minded, down-to-earth and fun-loving.

Those were the conclusions of a 2021 exhibition on the Fashion & Lace Museum, “Brussels Touch,” that sought to distill the characteristics of designers from the town and graduates of its famous fashion school, La Cambre.

However the exhibition, “Woman Before Fashion,” paints a much wider picture of von Furstenberg’s legacy and her vivid brand DNA, intertwined with the advancement of girls, art movements, popular culture and the democratization of fashion.

For a European audience, it’s also a probability to find a penultimate example of the “American Dream,” propelled by the designer’s landmark 1974 design, the wrap dress in printed jersey, and her personal charisma, whether on the shop floor of Bonwit Teller or because the president or chairwoman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, titles she held from 2006 to 2019.

Nicolas Lor, head of exhibitions and publications on the museum, constructed the von Furstenberg showcase roughly in the identical way he discovered her personal story, delving first into the deep considering behind her designs, after which the varied chapters of her profession, now dedicated largely to women’s empowerment as she prepares to pass the torch to her heirs and possibly expert partners.

Nicolas Lor of Fashion & Lace Museum, Brussels.

Emmanuel Laurent

Lor argued that her wrap dress, marking its fiftieth anniversary in 2024, is as relevant today because it was within the ’70s since it epitomizes a “design object,” something practical, useful, produced on an industrial scale and incorporating specific features — most notably her inimitable prints.

“She’s type of untouched by trends,” he marveled, emphasizing the “continuous idea” behind her designs, which is distinct from fashion designers who dream up different themes and narratives for every seasonal collection.

The exhibition’s title comes from one in every of Lor’s first conversations with von Furstenberg, who stressed her want to at all times exalt the lady first.

It unfurls over 4 levels with this logic, starting with fashion and reaching a crescendo with the ladies, famous or otherwise, who’ve worn the wrap dress and the ladies from various fields the designer is championing through her DVF Awards and In Charge platform.

Lor selected to display the wrap dress in a white muslin version to exalt features that could be obscured by busy prints: the collar that lays flat, the buttonless cuffs and the neat, flaring skirt. He draws analogies to the Japanese kimono, a garment based on a “wrap system”; the draped peplos, depicted on an ancient Greek statue of Diana of Gabii, and to the uniforms von Furstenberg wore as a student at Lycée Henriette Dachsbeck, or a dancer’s body-hugging rehearsal gear.

The curator posits von Furstenberg amongst a continuum of girls designers whose fashions were conceived for day by day life, yielding purposeful, versatile, thought-out and trendy designs.

This illustrious group includes Gabrielle Chanel, who started off with sportswear product of jersey fabrics then used primarily for sailor tops and men’s undergarments, and Madeleine Vionnet, whose bias cutting offered women the identical freedom of movement and body-caressing sensuality von Furstenberg at all times extols together with her garments.

Art-inspired DVF dresses on display on the Fashion & Lace Museum in Brussels.

Emmanuel Laurent

During her visit to the royal gardens, von Furstenberg and members of her creative team snapped dozens of photos of gnarled tree branches, geometric blooms and tightly coiled palm fronds, which relate to one in every of her recurring print stories: nature.

Lor plastered a wall with such snapshots of flora, fauna and cobblestone pathways, though such motifs are sometimes abstracted on the jersey fabric. “Rocks or giraffe? We’re never sure,” he said, pointing to a wrap dress bearing a mottled, geometric pattern.

Art-inspired motifs, nourished by her close relationships with the likes of Andy Warhol and François-Marie Banier, also recur ceaselessly.

Von Furstenberg gave Lor full access to her personal archive, which incorporates quite a few binders of meticulous press clippings from the late ’60s through to today. She also offered some personal ending touches to the display, scrawling personal messages with a Sharpie on the timeline that opens the exhibition, and captioning photos of Michelle Obama, Naomi Campbell and Kate Middleton in one in every of the penultimate rooms — their actual wrap dresses grouped on a dais.

Visitors can plop themselves on a white cube and pose identical to von Furstenberg did, her mantra “Feel like a lady, wear a dress” scrawled on her famous portrait from the ’70s.

Diane von Furstenberg on the Fashion & Lace Museum in Brussels.

Emmanuel Laurent

During her Brussels sojourn, von Furstenberg was occasionally trailed by the cameras of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Pakistani-Canadian journalist, filmmaker and activist, who’s making a documentary concerning the designer that’s due out in January on Hulu.

Von Furstenberg’s early years unfurled inside a brief radius of the Brussels Town Hall, and he or she and her sister-in-law Greta Helfin planted her first freestanding Belgian boutique in Antwerp back in 2006.

She’s warmed to the country’s charms, scenic countryside and cuisine — as much as and including its famous “frites,” served as a precursor to dessert. It took two men to hold within the towering layer cake, topped with a miniature effigy of von Furstenberg, wearing a wrap dress, her arms raised triumphantly.

“I’m blissful I’m still Belgian,” she declared to the group.

Earlier within the day, she suggested she still harbors other ambitions in her hometown: “Next time I come, I would like to talk to the European Parliament.”

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