One dress changed Diane von Furstenberg's life

Diane von Furstenberg on CBS' "Sunday Morning," May 22, 2011. Watch Diane von Furstenberg on "CBS Sunday Morning." CBS

This story was first published on May 22, 2011.

She's someone who really needs no introduction.

When Diane non Furstenberg dropped into her flagship New York store unannounced one afternoon last spring, it was packed with customers from different cities - and different continents.

"Germany, Kuwait, Spain - right, it's the United Nations here!" she said during her visit.

At 65, after nearly 40 years in business, the legendary designer is hot - again.

"You like what you see today?" asked CBS' Anthony Mason in an interview with the designer.

"I like what I see today," she says, of the store. "But it's always nice. It's always pleasant here. Everybody's very happy."

There are a lot of happy people around her these days. After losing much of her namesake business in the 80s, Diane von Furstenberg has rebuilt her company into a multi-million dollar fashion empire, selling everything a woman could want - from head to toe. Not bad for someone who never learned to sew.

Diane Halfin was born in Brussels, the daughter of a business executive and a Holocaust survivor. In 1969, after becoming pregnant, she married her boyfriend, Prince Egon von Furstenberg. The glamorous young couple moved to America and dazzled New York society.

"He was good looking and rich and everything," says von Furstenberg. "For anybody it's the end of the fairytale. For me it was the beginning of the fairytale."

The new princess craved independence. So von Furstenberg began designing dresses - and in 1974 she hit upon a simple frock that would become her legacy: the wrap dress.

"This was a picture that I took of when I was 23 years old," she says. "And this was my very first dress. And I took a little ad in Women's Wear [Daily] to announce that I was in business."

Was she ever: By 1976, she'd sold millions of wrap dresses, and made the cover of Newsweek. Her marriage ended, but the dress has endured. The current first lady has even worn one in a White House Christmas card.

"Even you were impressed by that," Mason said.

"I'm still impressed with it, as I'm telling you," she said.

"Has the success of that dress taught you anything yourself about design?" Mason asks.

"The success of that dress has taught me everything I know - about design, about women, about life," says von Furstenberg. "That dress has paid for every single thing in my life. I remember when that dress happened. I didn't think that much of it. And that dress has just taught me everything."

She's also learned how to navigate the trickier parts of her life.

"You said, 'I don't particularly like to be married,'" said Mason.

"I know. The idea that - it's very funny. Marriage was never a destination with me," she responded.

But after a decade, her marriage to media mogul Barry Diller is still strong.

"Barry is clearly the man of my life because he's been in my life for 37 years. He's been everything. He's been my lover, he has been my friend and now he's my husband," says von Furstenberg.

"So you've kind of made peace with marriage?" asks Mason.

"Yes. So actually, today I say proudly, I am married," she said. "And I call Barry my husband. And I don't resent it. I'm actually pleased."

She's happy - but hardly at rest. Von Furstenberg recently introduced a new home fashion line. Now, she can dress your table, too.

It's not your grandmother's china. Each piece is designed to look like it's been picked up from a different exotic locale.

"Look at this. Tell me if these glasses are not great," she says, pointing to pieces in her collection.

And then...

"Oh, we can go to bed if you want," she suggests.

There's the von Furstenberg bed.

"I mean, God, what is more important than your bed?" she asks. "Everything that happens in your life happens in your bed. You dream in your bed. You're born in your bed. You're conceived in bed, hopefully. So, I mean, you know, bed is super important. So why can't you decorate your bed?"

"So you're expanding?" Mason asks.

"We're expanding organically," von Furstenberg replies.

The home line is part of a careful expansion. But for now, the company fortunes are still wrapped up in one legendary product.

"Do you ever get tired of it?" asks Mason about the wrap dress.

"How could you be tired of something that has made so many women happy?" asks von Furstenberg. "I mean, I am surprised. I am astounded. I am more...surprised of its success today than I was the first time around. But I am not tired of it. I'm not tired of who I am. That would be sad!"

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"

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