We aren’t quite aware of how big the estate is until our van gets stuck at the front gate. It’s one of those intimidating high, metal gates with a faceless, electronic box perched at the height of the driver’s window that asks you, surprisingly human, to state your name and business. Like you see on television, minus the menacing Dobermans. But not only that, the house has a name. A few feet up from our robotic greeting machine is a cute, white, wooden sign shaped like a cloud with the word ‘Cloudwalk’ spelled in calligraphy. I can’t but think of my own apartment’s name – ‘2’ – and feel somewhat inadequate and boring. Surely the Von Furstenberg situation is more chic.
The driveways – note the plural number – are even more indicative of the estate’s grandeur. We manage to take a wrong turn – my apartment building has just three, unmistakable floors (although there’s also a ‘1,5’ which always throws off the bike messengers. I think my landlord was just having some fun with the nametags.) – and end up at a large, wooden barn, where a few healthy men in matching Cloudwalk T-shirts are busy loading a truck. This can’t be the house though. “You have to go back and take the first left,” explains one of them. I turn to see where that new route might lead and spot another two buildings through the trees. One, we learn later, is the main house and the other Diane’s bedroom/studio/library. Glad we got that cleared up.
“Please, please, come have some breakfast,” beckons Diane when we finally meet her by the parking spot. She almost sounds worried, like an overbearing mother who wants to make sure her flock is fed properly. She’s dressed in a long, white, cotton nightgown, no make-up, hair down but not visibly affected by sleep in any way, and barefoot. And even in such simple attire she’s imposing and gorgeous. About 5 foot 8 and athletic she’s just as beautiful as in the hundreds of photos I’ve seen of her, at studio 54 or at work in her atelier in the 70s or more recently at her Fashion Week dinner at Indochine. She’s at ease and generously welcoming.
“I have met Diane before,” whispers Elizabeth Gilpin, one of our models, “and it’s easy to say she embodies what I aspire to become: strong, courageous, happy and an inspiration.” The other two girls, Laura Love, 21-year old daughter of Vogue’s senior West Coast editor Lisa, and Tali Lennox, Annie’s daughter who I featured two years ago in London, nod in agreement and tiptoe around the house and grounds in respectful fascination. “It’s amazing to see someone who has done so much and worked so hard, maintain such a fresh and passionate energy,” finds Tali.
It’s hard not to go a little ga-ga over this shoot. Did I mention I am the first person EVER to have accessed Diane’s archives? Not even her own granddaughter Talita who’s visiting, knew of their existence. She stares in awe at the trunks of clothes we unload from the van: Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo skirts, vintage Louboutin heels, nameless red fringe pants, vintage DVF fur boots, wrap dresses in different patterns, accessories from the new collections, Stetson hats; they’re all about to come alive on camera.
Naturally I dedicate the first shot to the famous wrap dress. It’s safe to say that Diane owes her entire success and tirelessly regenerative fashion career to this “simple little dress”. She was only twenty-six when she made the first one and “had no idea it would become such a phenomenon. I was in the right place, at the right time, and it was something that had not been done,” she recalls. “But I think the thing that made the dress special and timeless is that it was all about the woman. It really flattered a woman’s body and it gave her independence and power.” But where do you go from there? I ask her if she’s been in pursuit of creating another wild success since the wrap dress. How did she measure other collections against such a success? The answer is simple: “I define success by my ability to express myself and to be true to myself. It is my mission in life to empower women, through fashion, through mentoring and through philanthropy. So every collection is an opportunity to do that and I feel lucky.”
The afternoon flies by. What we thought would last two hours turns into a six-hour production. “You must have lunch!” insists Diane after a few frenzied dress changes and summons my team to the poolside terrace. But as soon as our stomachs are stocked we fly off again to conduct Diane’s on-camera interview by the giant Buddha statue. She changed into a pair of black leggings, an oversized DVF sweater and rubber rain boots – none of us poor mignons anticipated the swampy, muddy grass by the lake and get splattered. No vintage? She replies matter-of-factly: “I don’t need to wear vintage. I AM vintage.” By four PM, when we’re just about to finish the last shot, we feel the first drops of rain, as if saved by the bell. I could have gone on for hours, probably until Diane would have insisted we “Stay for dinner!!”….
Thank you Diane for gracefully and patiently allowing us into your home and archives. You were always at the top of my list, because you are to me, not only the ultimate vintage Muse, but also an inspiration and the epitome of strength and elegance. And the fact that we are both Belgian is just a little icing on this magnificent dream cake you helped create. A big thanks to Grace Cha for pulling Diane’s sleeve and introducing my idea. Big hugs to the rest of Diane’s team (Elizabeth Luby, Lisa Cross and Kristen Ronan), the three musketeers Tali, Elizabeth and Laura, my intern Daniel Lutz and the never-disappointing apple of my eye, Aram Bedrossian and his side-kick Shea Whelan. This was amazing!