“Every day, when I get dressed, I start with my shoes and build from there,” Diane von Furstenberg said. “Shoes give you strength and confidence. They punctuate a woman’s look, giving her the attitude she wants to project.”
The veteran designer was speaking to Footwear News at her colorful headquarters and showroom in New York’s Meatpacking District. The space overflows with personality — von Furstenberg’s playful prints are splashed on the walls and incorporated into furniture throughout, and original Andy Warhol paintings complement her motifs.
On this mid-August morning, von Furstenberg, who was in the office for a few days before leaving to sail the Mediterranean, was eager to show off her new footwear line, developed with licensing partner Caleres Inc. (The designer signed the deal with Caleres earlier this year after first launching the category in 2007 with Schwartz & Benjamin.)
The shoes will be in the spotlight during von Furstenberg’s Sept. 13 New York Fashion Week show, and the designer is clearly thrilled about the opportunity in the category. “This is something I want to leave a big imprint on. Shoes are so important to the brand and the DVF woman. It was crucial to find the right partner to help us design styles that are all about the woman,” said von Furstenberg, the founder and chairman of her namesake business.
Caleres CEO, President and Chairman Diane Sullivan agreed that the potential is significant for both companies. “Opportunities like this don’t come around often. DVF is an iconic brand. Any time you can build on something that is already so well-respected is exciting. She has had great success, but I’m confident our team can bring [added] expertise to the table.”
Von Furstenberg said the new shoe push comes in the midst of a major transition for the company. “This is a [fresh] phase. I have a new CEO [Paolo Riva, who joined in May 2015], and I look forward to seeing the [results] of what we have created,” von Furstenberg said.
The designer noted that fit, comfort and style were key through- out the footwear collection, which features unique heel treatments, standout prints and gold touches. (All styles are priced under $400.)
“I love this shoe. Isn’t it gorgeous?” she said, scooping up a strappy style with an iridescent block heel. “I love crisscross in general — it makes your foot look good, and it carries you. And I love gold — I give as much attention to it as possible. We have different versions [of similar styles] so you can walk in the street and also have a party shoe.”
“Above all, I’m a feminist, and I just can’t bear when I see people on the street [looking] like they can’t walk,” said von Furstenberg.
“This is the first time I’m showing flats on the runway. Flats are ‘in’ right now, and I think it’s very much about comfort [being so important]. Comfort has to be a big part of it. What does this brand do? We celebrate freedom. We empower women. We better deliver this promise in our shoes.”
The ability to produce diverse styles was also important for von Furstenberg when she teamed up with Caleres, which has an extensive sourcing network and strong relationships with top retailers.
Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, which carry von Furstenberg’s ready-to-wear, will all stock the shoes.
“I thought the line looked fresh. The quality and details stood out as feeling very much on- brand, and key trends were represented,” said Erica Russo, fashion director of accessories and beauty at Bloomingdale’s, adding that espadrilles were a particularly important part of the collection.
While it remains to be seen how the line will resonate with consumers, von Furstenberg will be wearing her designs to generate buzz. “I always wear what I make,” she said. “This is something that we are very involved in and not just putting our name on.”
When asked about a social presence for the line, she replied, “How can you not be on social? That’s who we are today. [Social channels] give more of a voice to the consumer.”
Fashion players said von Furstenberg’s prowess in the industry is largely due to her commitment and passion for every project in which she’s involved.
“More than anyone else I have ever worked with, she understands how fashion has the ability to empower,” Andrew said. “Every meeting with Diane is an education. After I won the Fashion Fund Award, the first thing she said to me was, ‘Now the work begins.’” Andrew added that von Furstenberg’s best piece of advice was “to develop and stay true to a signature item.”
That’s certainly been true of von Furstenberg, who built a powerful business on her signature wrap dress. “It’s been a wardrobe classic in women’s wardrobes for decades,” said Manolo Blahnik. “Diane has a strong sense of style and knows what she likes.”
And von Furstenberg’s impact has been felt far beyond her namesake business, Kolb noted. “Diane sees the important message that fashion can send — and not just in the industry, but in the way her business runs. There are messages around diversity on the runway, model health, and all of it connects back to who she is,” he explained.
Von Furstenberg’s loyal consumers get an inside look at how she thinks when they tune in to her E! docu-series, “House of DVF,” in which seven fashion aficionados vie to be von Furstenberg’s next brand ambassador. (The second season will premiere the night of her New York Fashion Week runway show.)
“It’s a lot of fun. We are trying to bring the millennial [generation] into the company, teaching [younger women] and mentoring them,” she said, adding that it’s crucial for more women to rise to top roles in the fashion industry. “Women should be in high ranks. They should not be afraid of their own strength,” the designer said.
Now, von Furstenberg is hoping that her own strength in ready-to-wear will translate into equal success in footwear. “Shoes are key,” she said. “We want to become an important asset in the industry and have customers [view us] as a footwear destination.”
[Editor’s Note: This cover story first appeared in print 09/07/15]