In a used bookstore over a decade ago, we found a slim, tattered volume of Diane von Furstenberg’s Book of Beauty: How to Become a More Attractive, Confident and Sensual Woman. In the intervening years, the woman has become an icon and an industry leader. She has indeed become The Woman I Wanted to Be, the name of her new memoir. As we read the two books side by side, it was impossible not to draw comparisons to our own careers, mistakes and triumphs, and the women that we have all become. Readers of both books are likely to look for their own parallels, but it is the new memoir that really draws the reader in and would engage even a casual fan.
While we don’t want to throw around terms like “ghostwriter,” the first book does not seem to be totally written in von Furstenberg’s voice (or perhaps as fans we have just become more familiar with the designer’s languid European drawl as she has taken a more public role in her company and the fashion industry). It is full of prescriptions and advice from experts: specific exercises to try, elixirs for the skin, general “women’s magazine” fodder that, while delivered with von Furstenberg’s message of independence, doesn’t strike a very empowered chord. We laughed out loud and almost got mad at a section that suggests that “you should always be as beautiful as you can be so you will be desired. And isn’t being desired a part of being fulfilled?” It seemed to say that the male gaze was where women could derive meaning, and in direct contrast to edicts like “when you don’t know what to buy, you should always have in mind whom you dress for. And then you should always dress for that person … you might be surprised to discover that person is really you.”
Well, the von Furstenberg of The Woman I Wanted to Be is no longer surprised.
The new memoir, which comes out October 28, is fully in von Furstenberg’s voice as we have come to know it, and we become more intimate with it as we read. The bluntness, the frank discussion of her sexual evolution (she names names!) is at once amusing and refreshing from a woman we’ve generally regarded as rather private about her personal life. Perhaps we have this notion because we weren’t around during her youth to read about her jet-set party hopping as Princess von Furstenberg during her first marriage. But anything we missed the first time around is laid out as if we’re hearing the story of an older family friend over a meal.
Anyone with even a remote interest in fashion, building a business, travel, living beautifully or women in power would obviously be thrilled to have a few hours to chat and really glean the wisdom of this fascinating person, and that’s what this second book is. Instead of relying on experts, von Furstenberg is more confident in her own voice and has come to rely on herself and trust her own opinions and authority. From sex and romance to motherhood and the boardroom, she doesn’t pull any punches. It’s amazing that she can give away so much of herself, her history and her essence, leaving the reader feeling as fulfilled as she must be, but at the same time retain an alluring air of mystery.
In her introduction, von Furstenberg says, “As a girl, I did not know what I wanted to do but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be my own person, independent and free. I knew that freedom could only be achieved if I took full responsibility for myself and my actions, if I were true to truth, if I became my very best friend.”
That sounds like a mission statement for life if ever we heard one, and it’s one few in the headlines and in the thick of the luxury lifestyle can lay claim to. Somehow, von Furstenberg leaves you without a doubt that it’s possible. Not only for her, but for you.