Q and A with Gioia Diliberto, DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: A LIFE UNWRAPPED
1. Tell us a little about your book.
Diane von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped is a biography of one of the most influential and controversial legends of American fashion, an iconic designer whose creations captured the modern feminist spirit and whose private life kept the gossip press busy for decades. I’ve taken a “life and times” approach in the book, so that it’s more than the story of one woman’s life. It’s the portrait of an era – the very particular and vanished Manhattan of the 1970s. At least, that’s what I tried to do.
2. Diane von Furstenberg has been considered a fashion icon since the early ‘70s, but I don’t think as many people are aware that she's also a feminist figure. Was it both of these characteristics that first interested you in writing this book?
Diane’s feminism definitely played into my decision to write about her. I’m always looking for subjects who either in their personalities or accomplishments or circumstances embody the spirit of their time. Diane, to me, symbolizes second wave feminism. She showed how a woman could have a man’s life of power and money and success and still be a woman. She could also smoke a lot of pot and sleep around and still make it to the top!
3. What were the biggest pleasures of researching and writing A Life Unwrapped?
Meeting people I never would have met otherwise (like Fran Lebowitz), and traveling to places (like Bruges, Belgium) I never would have visited otherwise.
4. You did countless interviews and traveled far and wide for this book—were the sheer physical demands of this project the biggest challenges?
As a genre, biography does have enormous physical demands – traveling to far flung locales to interview people and examine documents, tracking down sources, endless library research – but I find most of that an enjoyable adventure (except the library research!) The biggest challenges always are intellectual and creative. The biggest challenge is shaping the mountain of research into a compelling story.
5. The incisive historical and political context that you include in this book provides much texture and insight into the remarkable story of DVF’s success and perseverance. Was it an organic process, i.e. did all these contextual details arrive naturally as you wrote each chapter or did you go back later and add in these layers?
I knew a lot of the context from the reading and research I’d done before sitting down to write. Some of it, of course, got layered in as I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote some more.
6. What are you currently reading and recommending?
I just finished The Mothering Sunday, the latest from the prolific English writer Graham Swift. Set at the close of the Great War, it’s the story of a maid who has a passionate affair with the heir of a grand estate and, years later, becomes a famous author.
Gioia Diliberto is the author of the biographies Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife, A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Addams, and Debutante: The Story of Brenda Frazier and the novels I Am Madame X and The Collection. Named one of Bustle’s ’11 Women in Nonfiction Who are Totally Killing It’ in 2015, her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Smithsonian, and Vanity Fair, and she is a visiting lecturer in writing at the Savannah College of Art and Design and DePaul University. She lives in Chicago, Illinois.