Read Diane von Furstenberg Online

Authors: Gioia Diliberto

Diane von Furstenberg (6 page)

BOOK: Diane von Furstenberg
10.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

At first Diane rented a small, furnished studio on avenue Georges Mandel in the Sixteenth Arrondissement. Soon, however, she moved in with her mother in an apartment on rue Pergolese. Martin Muller says his father bought the apartment for Lily so she could spend part of each year with her sister Mathilde, who lived in Paris with her husband.

Diane knew that Lily needed company. “My mother was very unhappy by herself,” says Philippe. When Lily was alone—even with loved ones close by—the memories of all she had suffered in the war came flooding back to torment her.

Diane’s days were spent at Koski’s four-story townhouse on rue Dufrenoy, also in the Sixteenth Arrondissement, a redoubt that served as his home, office, and photo studio. “It was a crazy house,” says Koski, who divided his time between Paris and London, where he also had a house and studio. “People were coming in and out all the time; photographers would come from all over the world; they would sleep there, take their shoots there, designers would show their collections there.”

“I was like an assistant,” Diane recalls. “Most of the time, I was answering the phone to tell either the girls Albert slept with or the photographers he had to pay that he wasn’t there.”

Jealousy raged among the photographers, and “Diane was very good at making sure that none of it got out of hand,” says Koski.

For Diane, Koski became the center of what was happening in fashion, media, and celebrity. “I had to put together the books of photographers and send it to agencies,” Koski recalls. Diane helped him and in the process absorbed a great deal about fashion photography, knowledge she put to good use when she had her own business. “She was very quick. She picked things up very fast. I liked that about her,” says Koski.

Diane had arrived in Paris in the late sixties, as the long, black shadows of World War II were finally starting to fade. The postwar lives of Parisians had been marred by the pall of war and occupation. “There was a lid over Europe,” recalls Koski’s wife, the filmmaker Danièle Thompson, who was raised in Paris. “Until 1950 you had tickets to buy food.
When you went to school, you wore dark uniforms, and the city was dark. People were dressed in a very sad way.”

Suddenly Paris sprang to life as the old order crumbled, sparked by young people demanding change. May 1968 in France was the most serious expression at the time of a far-reaching youth revolt across the Western world—from the anti-Vietnam protests in the United States to the terrorist activities of the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany. The French protests, though, came closest to a real political revolution—they led to a strike involving ten million workers and the unseating of a president, Charles de Gaulle.

Profound social change was under way. It would reach deep into life, politics, and culture, and it would be symbolized by the new freedoms claimed by the young. “It is strictly forbidden to forbid,” read a notice tacked to a door at the Sorbonne. It became a rallying cry, one of the signature slogans of the era, along with “Live without limits and enjoy without restraint.”

Sex was a key element of the new freedoms. Before 1968, says Cedric Lopez-Huici, Egon’s friend, “when you had a girlfriend, there was no sexual intercourse. You were going out with her, kissing her, doing everything

Now everyone was doing
joyously and without restraint. Diane was an enthusiastic participant. “Diane was wild. She slept with all sorts of people,” says Nona Gordon. “A lot of them she’s forgotten.”

Every evening and weekend, every trip provided an opportunity for sex. Visiting Gordon at a film festival in Deauville, where the young woman was working as Omar Sharif’s personal assistant, Diane had a dalliance with the
Doctor Zhivago
star. “He was the worst lay I ever had,” she says.

Diane sympathized with the rebel students and workers, but only “in the most superficial way,” she admitted. She was too busy having fun. Sometimes, though, Diane and her friends collided with the student radicals. One night a group of protesting students had pushed through the
barricades to confront police near the club New Jimmy’s on boulevard Montparnasse. The writer Taki Theodoracopulos, who also was present that evening, recalled opening the door to see what was going on outside. A Molotov cocktail hurled by a rioter exploded in the foyer. Diane and her friends, who a moment before had been dancing to the jerky form of French pop known as yé-yé, poured out into the street, mingling with the rioters.

At the hot nightclubs—Castel’s, Le Privé, New Jimmy’s, Le Sept, Le Pré Catalan—and the jet set watering holes from Gstaad to Saint-Tropez, the demimonde mingled with the jeunesse dorée and the children of the bourgeoisie. The currency was youth and style, qualities Diane had in abundance.

Still, she lacked the pedigree to gain entrée to the “best” parties,
les grandes fêtes
hosted by such aristocrats as Jacqueline de Ribes and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. She did not have a “de” in her name; she was not rich; she was not beautiful in that delicate porcelain way of a faubourg aristocrat. “Diane was a plump, Jewish Belgian girl who was very funny,” says Taki. “She did imitations of how foreigners spoke French. She wasn’t at all glamorous. I never saw her at those very exclusive parties that used to take place in those days. She was a girl people knew, a middle-class girl.”

But she was popular, and she developed warm friendships, particularly with women. “She liked women. She had genuine women friends,” says Taki. She harbored a powerful instinct to nurture and protect, and she was drawn alike to the neediness of men
damsels in distress.

One night at a Saint-Tropez party in in one of those posh villas that had overtaken the curving shoreline like eucalyptus, Diane was strolling through the fragrant gardens overlooking the sea when she came upon a beautiful young woman sitting alone on a stone bench sobbing. Her name was Florence Grinda.

Between sobs, Florence explained that her husband had left the party with another woman. Diane suggested they go for a drive in Grinda’s car (Diane hadn’t yet learned to drive and didn’t have a license). Although
Diane says the two young women had met previously in Geneva, Grinda recalls that she “didn’t know [Diane] at all.” Still, she and Diane “went for a drive for about an hour until I stopped crying, and ever since we’ve been friends. I thought that was a very rare thing to do.”

As it turned out, Florence was no ordinary girl married to an ordinary cad. She’d grown up on avenue Foch, the daughter of Gisèle and Jean Michard-Pellissier, a business lawyer who counted among his best friends Aristotle Onassis. Florence’s husband was Jean-Noël Grinda, a tennis star and fixture of the fast-living Parisian set that revolved around playboy photographer Gunther Sachs and his wife, Brigitte Bardot.

Diane’s talent for making friends reflected her warmth and interest in others, but she also had a knack for getting close to people who had entrée to the worlds of power, money, and celebrity. “Once we went to a concert in Paris, or maybe it was a dinner, where Liza Minnelli was singing,” recalls Grinda. “Diane jumped in front of Liza and actually got down on her knees to tell Liza how much she loved her and how wonderful she was.”

Chief among Diane’s glamorous new friends was Marisa Berenson. Just as a decade later Diane would stand as a vivid representation of the seventies in New York, Marisa embodied the Parisian beau monde of the sixties. Already a famous model when Diane met her in 1968, Marisa was an ethereal gazelle of a girl with long chestnut hair and huge, glittering green eyes. Marisa had been born modeling—she first appeared in
in 1947, when the magazine ran a picture of her baptism. “My whole life has been lived at Condé Nast,” she jokes.

Also at Hearst. At age five, Marisa and her younger sister, Berry, landed on the cover of
in matching red dresses with sashes in shocking pink—a color made famous by their famous grandmother, the couturiere Elsa Schiaparelli. Like dazzling Nicole Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s
Tender Is the Night,
Marisa represented “the exact furthermost evolution of a class,” so that most women seemed plain and dull beside her.

On her mother’s side, Marisa was descended from a famous Neapolitan
astronomer; on her father’s side, she was related to art historian Bernard Berenson. Her father, Robert Lawrence Berenson, was an American diplomat of Lithuanian Jewish descent. Her mother was Countess Maria Luisa Yvonne Radha de Wendt de Kerlor, known as Gogo, the daughter of Schiaparelli.

Sent off to boarding school at age five, Marisa had led a childhood of both loneliness and lavishness, of motherless bedtimes and holiday tea parties where little girls were served by footmen in white gloves. She had emerged from this overstuffed yet undernourished background to become a star of the Parisian youthquake.

Neither Diane nor Marisa remembers how they met, perhaps at a party in Paris. Though they’d been raised in remarkably different circumstances, there was much to draw them together. Both had fierce wills and a determination to be independent. Marisa also had a vulnerability that appealed to Diane. For her part, Marisa found Diane a refreshing change from the snooty French girls she met modeling. “We became instant close friends,” she says.

Marisa and Diane dressed to be noticed, piling on the makeup and costume jewelry, bangles, Tibetan chains, and thick belts covered with huge stones. Their look was eccentric and eclectic. “We’d go from being hippie chicks to very glamorous to very dressed, to very undressed,” says Marisa. “There wasn’t just one look. It was an explosion of self-expression.”

One favorite look of theirs combined teeny hot pants with platform shoes and Yves Saint Laurent jackets. They would dress up, iron their hair—they were both tormented by unruly tresses that frizzed at the least excuse—and head out to the restaurants, cafés, and clubs.

At the time, Marisa was living in her grandmother’s grand
hôtel particulier
at 22 rue de Berri, a residence that had once been home to Princess Mathilde, Napoléon’s niece. The interior was a jumble of treasures that the couturiere had collected over the years. Many were works by the famous artists she’d befriended in the twenties, including a Salvador
Dali compact that looked like a telephone dial. She also owned tapestries by François Boucher. Feathers and jewels instead of flowers sprouted from Schiaparelli’s vases.

On her way out for the day or evening, Marisa tried to avoid “Schiap,” as the designer was known by her intimates. Schiaparelli disapproved of what she considered her granddaughter’s eccentric outfits and makeup. “My grandmother didn’t think I was elegant at all,” says Marisa. “She’d look at me leaving the house, and she’d say, ‘You’re not going out in
!’ I’d have on a miniskirt or mini-shorts, and she just thought it was so vulgar.”

Diane knew that Marisa had a very famous grandmother “who was a tyrant,” but she never met Schiaparelli. The couturiere was always upstairs, and Diane was always downstairs, she recalls.

The friends loved movies and would sometimes see two or three in one day. After spending an afternoon in a darkened theater, the two young women, dressed to the nineteenths in microminis and bangles or gossamer tops and low-slung bell-bottoms, would saunter into La Coupole in Montparnasse for oysters, and everyone would stare—exactly as they’d hoped.

Their style was startlingly new. The sixties were a turning point for fashion, marked by the ascendance of individuality and the decline of couture. In just one year, from 1966 to 1967, the number of couture houses in Paris plunged from thirty-nine to seventeen. The next year, Balenciaga retired, bemoaning that there was no one left to dress. His clients were dead or dying, and so was their way of life, with its rival salons and grand balls, ladies’ maids and drivers in livery. With the student and worker protests soon to be followed by the resignation of Charles de Gaulle, who had dominated French politics since the end of the occupation, a spirit of openness and change infused all levels of Parisian society.

And yet. Marie-Laure Noailles, a descendent of the marquis de Sade, patron of the surrealists, and star hostess of Old Paris, lived on in her
hôtel particulier
on the Isle St. Louis, a remnant of the world of French sophistication and privilege that was closed to Diane. Marisa had been
born to this world, and through her, Diane would glimpse it. “I knew everyone there was to know,” Marisa says.

In addition to the old guard, Marisa introduced Diane to the new international elite—a mixture of pop singers, fashion designers, photographers, movie directors, and Hollywood stars—many of them from working-class backgrounds. This group intersected and mingled with the jet set crowd of socialites and aristocrats.

Some of the people Diane encountered with Marisa she’d already met while studying in Geneva. Egon had introduced her to others. “We were all Eurotrash,” says Mimmo Ferretti. “We were not like the children of rich Europeans now who are sent to America to study. We were all taking drugs and carousing, but we were the most fun, and we are all still together, still friends—those of us who are still alive.

“It was the best time since the belle époque,” he continues. “We had a choice—live in the moment or settle down and go to work. I lived in the moment. If you were to meet someone who was in Paris in the belle époque, you’d say, ‘Oh, you met Toulouse-lautrec!’ And if the answer was ‘Oh, no, I was too busy working and getting married and having three kids,’ you’d look at the guy like he’s crazy. He missed it all!”

being young in Paris, as Diane wrote in 1998, on some deep level she remained an outsider. She would never be a true
She would never be part of
le gratin
(the upper crust). She could sometimes tag along with Marisa to the homes of aristocrats, but the world of the Faubourg St. Germain with its inscrutable rules and Proustian intrigues would remain closed to her.

Of course, Fashion was all about exclusion, and no one understood this better than the French, going back to the days of Louis XIV. When the Sun King began wearing a special coat with slashed sleeves, he passed a law that prevented anyone but his courtiers from donning copies of it. Only he and a handful of others could wear red-heeled shoes, a symbol of their power to crush their enemies under their feet.

BOOK: Diane von Furstenberg
10.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Flirting with Disaster by Sherryl Woods
Getting Stoned with Savages by J. Maarten Troost
La Chamade by Francoise Sagan
Nothing Real Volume 1 by Claire Needell
High Stakes by Robin Thomas
Four Degrees Celsius by Kerry Karram