Diane von Furstenberg likes to joke that she cannot separate herself from her iconic wrap dress that made her famous: the long sheet of (usually) brightly patterned fabric that wraps around a woman's body, cinching around the waist to give her the illusion of an hourglass figure.
“The wrap dress is the one thing that I owe everything to,” the fashion designer said yesterday as part of a press preview for the exhibit. “She paid for all my bills and as a matter of fact, in French, we call the wrap dress 'portefeuille,' which means wallet … but sometimes I ever resented the wrap dress because whenever my name is there, it's always 'Diane von Furstenberg, the wrap dress' and I always say 'but I do other things too.'”]
Still, this love/hate relationship has not stopped Furstenberg from paying tribute to her work. Open to the public tomorrow until April 1, the “Journey of a Dress” exhibit in the Wilshire May Company building known as LACMA West (it will eventually become the home of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures) celebrates 40 years of the frock that epitomizes the designer's fearless, fresh, feminine and feminist. The 198 designs range from miniskirts to flared pants and are organized into sections with names like Nature, Pop Art and Geometric that showcase von Furstenberg's evolving color palette. The customized mannequins come by way of furniture designer Ralph Pucci (no relation to fashion designer Emilio Pucci) with faces molded in her image.
Ad campaigns (including the original one that shows the designer seated on a cube with a hand-written message declaring “Feel Like a Woman, Wear a Dress!”) and stills from movies like American Hustle and Taxi Driver that have featured her creations line the entryway and gift shop (which sells wrap dresses, among other notables). Since von Furstenberg has often lended her image to artists with whom she has mutual adoration, the exhibit also features images of her by Andy Warhol, Konstantin Kakanias and Chuck Close, among others.
An Annie Leibovitz photograph captures an especially candid moment of von Furstenberg and husband Barry Diller after what one can imagine was an evening out at a black tie event. The designer lounges lazily on the couch, her legs tucked under the skimpy little black dress and her famous wavy, wild hair flowing behind her.
While there have been versions of the “Journey of a Dress” exhibit in places like Moscow and Beijing, von Furstenberg chose Los Angeles as the first North American stop for her exhibit – a seemingly odd choice, as she is usually thought to be a New Yorker, especially since her days at Studio 54. She says she made decisions because she's “shy” and “too much a part of New York.”
“Los Angeles is very much pop culture and this dress is popular culture,” she said, adding that she seduced LACMA CEO and director Michael Govan and members of the Academy into letting her have the exhibit here. “I never set out to make a fashion statement, but this dress is now in sociology class. It's associated to liberation of women.
“Another thing about California,” she added, “is that you have the same governor whom you had 40 years [ago].”
Journey of a Dress runs January 11 to April 1 at the Wilshire May Company Building. For more information, visit DVF.com.