Diane von Furstenberg Steals The Show At Last Night’s TimesTalk

Lesson learned: Diane von Furstenberg could leave fashion and have a very successful career in stand-up comedy.

Last night, when New York Times reporter Eric Wilson hosted one of the paper’s TimesTalk discussions with Princess Diane (she’s royalty, look it up), Prabal Gurung, Fern Mallis and Norma Kamali, everyone thought they’d mostly be discussing the Fashion Center’s recent Sidewalk Catwalk project. Instead, Diane kept the entire audience rolling in the aisles for the entire discussion. One man sitting behind us said she “was absolutely crazy.”

But let’s back up — for those who don’t know, the Sidewalk Catwalk project is a Fern Mallis production, public art exhibit and an opportunity for people to see what really goes on in the fashion district. Mallis coordinated 32 designers, from John Bartlett to Donna Karan, to decorate and dress mannequins that are on display on New York’s Broadway. Each of the three designers present contributed a look to the project.

“It’s the best runway in town,” Mallis said. “The whole world gets a front row seat at a fashion show.”

Von Furstenberg’s mannequin is covered head to toe in what she calls a leopard tattoo.

“To me, a leopard tattoo is so timeless … there’s nothing more beautiful than the leopard,” she said. “The woman feels feline, and it’s kind of nice to feel feline.”

Kamali’s mannequin was a tribute to the speed and efficacy of technology, which she said she’d been working with from an early age.

“I was working on a UNIVAC computer in the 60s,” Kamali, who we have to pause and say doesn’t look a day over 28, said. “I learned at a young age how fast the power of communication could be.”

In respect for “how profound new technology is for all of us,” Kamali covered her mannequin in QR barcodes so that people could scan them with their mobile devices and get linked to her website and her other mobile footprints.

“We have all the instructions on the mannequin,” she said.

Gurung’s mannequin is a tribute to the late Alexander McQueen, inspired by that designer’s tribute to Isabella Blow. It’s covered in “more than 200 hand-cut butterflies,” Gurung said. “There’s one red butterfly. I love red.”

Discussion turned, eventually, to making it in the fashion business — von Furstenberg and Kamali both have had storied careers, and they ended up in a mini-mentoring session for Gurung, who is three seasons into his own eponymous label.

Von Furstenberg is known, of course, for her wrap dress, which millions of women have bought since it was introduced in the 70s.

“It’s a dress that always reflects the beginning of your life,” she said. Women remember it fondly because it can go with them everywhere. They say “‘Oh, I met my friend,’ or ‘Oh, I got a job,’ or ‘Oh, I got laid,’” she said, to gales of laughter.

Kamali’s sleeping bag coat, which was introduced around the same time, has a similar story. “If I change anything, people go crazy,” Kamali said.

Gurung, who is a CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund finalist and one of the city’s fashion incubator participants, is a relative newcomer. Wilson asked about the importance of having an iconic look, like an It bag.

“You only know the bag is ‘It’ when it’s ‘It,’” von Furstenberg said. “Good things happen out of authenticity, not out of marketing.”

While it’s tough at the moment to be a young designer, von Furstenberg said she had a lot of hope and optimism for Gurung.

“There are a lot of little cracks, and if you’re a nice little weed, you’ll grow through the cracks,” she said. “And you’ll become a tree.”

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